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Mama SpanX

A Red Hot and Timeless Blend of Feisty Female Rhythm, Blues, Funk and S.O.U.L

This album has very nearly gone into the Oxfam box twice in recent weeks; not because it’s no good but simply because it arrived in October 2017 when Mrs Magpie was rushed into hospital and I didn’t do any reviews for a couple of months and the 2018 pile of CD’s is growing like Topsy every day.
But……this is far too good a record to give away and in my humble opinion deserves a much wider audience than the hirsute hipsters of Jesmondia near Newcastle.
First of all I’m not too sure I like the striking artwork on the album cover; but in it’s defence it does ‘sum up the contents’ extremely well! What you see is what you get……a red, hot and timeless mix of feisty female Rhythm, Blues, Funk and S.O.U.L
With no preconceptions at all, apart from trusting the PR who sent the disc…… stomach spun like a turbo fan the first time I heard opening track ROCKET!
Oh Lordy Lord….everything I love about R&B and Soul Music is here…..and MORE! Nikki Armstrong aka Mama SpanX has a warm, velvety and expressive vocal style and her band The Spankers (ooh, err Missus!) Rock, Roll and Swing like a cross between The Swampers and Count Basie’s Big Band……and that’s only a slight exaggeration.
Seeing me making a cup of coffee earlier Mrs. Magpie giggled “What are you doing?” As I was shuffling my feet and actually ‘shaking my thang’ as Wild Emotion filtered out of the office speakers on the other side of the house. Caught in the act; I kept on dancing regardless of how silly I looked; it’s that good a song and too good an opportunity to miss, regardless of the location.
When she wasn’t watching I secretly danced again to the Funkylicious Being Beautiful and Alligator Boogaloo and then again on the title track State Of Groove; because that’s what this music is for……DANCING and you will too.
Mama SpanX can get low down and dirty too by the way; with Crawl and Thinkin’ being the sort of late night Bluesy/Soul crossover that is perfect for both seduction purposes and also crying your heart out into your beer when it all goes horribly wrong!
Before I get onto my ‘favourite track’ I have to heap copious praise on the Spankers; without whom this album wouldn’t be half as good….Harlan Spector’s keyboard playing is exceptional and holds the whole sound together and the horn section ….Steve Sadd and Julie Sax make a big, big sound worthy of the best in Memphis; and Ross Mullen on a six string fretless bass (?) alongside drummer David Abercrombie combine to create controlled thunder in the background while Steve Johnson provides virtual lightning on guitars throughout.
As I say I love the dance tunes here; but the two songs that tie for ‘favourite track status are the Power Ballad Wrong Side of the Garden; which is a thrill a minute and promises to be a guaranteed showstopper when sung live; yet the other finds Nikki Armstrong singing the lyrics to the heart breaking Anywhere You Are over a very gently played piano. Simple, yet emotionally destructive……just like Soul music should be.
Where do I start and stop comparing the Mama SpanX ‘sound’? Classic acts as diverse as Tina Turner, Nina Simone, Tower of Power and even Sly and the Family Stone sprung to mind at various times playing this record; but so did RMHQ Favourites the James Hunter Six and of course the late lamented Miss Sharon Jones of Daptone Records fame……and Mama SpanX and the Spankers could easily sit comfortably in any of that company.

Released October 31st 2017

Single of the Day JOHN PRINE – Summer’s End


Summer’s End

It’s been a while; 13 years to be exact since John Prine released a fully fledged new album; but in April 2018 he will do such a thing and as a forerunner here’s the first single SUMMER’S END and what a taster it is!

Here’s the gist of the PRESS RELEASE –

Recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio A, the album includes ten new songs written by Prine along with co-writers Pat McLaughlin, Roger Cook, Dan Auerbach, Keith Sykes and Phil Spector. In addition to Prine (lead vocals and acoustic guitar) and Cobb (acoustic guitar, mellotron, claps, kazoo), the album features special guests Brandi Carlile (harmony vocals on tracks 2, 4, 8, 10), Jason Isbell (electric guitar on track 7, slide guitar and background vocals on track 9, 10) and Amanda Shires (fiddle and background vocals on track 9, background vocals on track 10).

In celebration of the album, Prine will embark on an extensive worldwide tour that will span throughout 2018, including a very special co-headline concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall with Sturgill Simpson (solo) on album release day as well as newly announced shows at L.A.’s Ace Theatre, Boston’s Wang Theatre, Austin’s Bass Hall,Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium (two nights) and UK dates including an appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival in August.

The landmark album and tour follow a noteworthy 2017, which included an “Artist of the Year” award at the Americana Music Honors & Awards and a Chicago/Midwest Regional Emmy Award for his “Chicago Voices” performance with Renée Fleming. Last year also saw the release of Prine’s debut book, John Prine Beyond Words, which includes a selection of favorites songs, photographs and stories from Prine’s beloved catalogue. More info is available here.

A two-time Grammy-winner, Prine is among the English language’s premier phrase-turners. Almost 50 years years into a remarkable career that has drawn effusive praise from Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Roger Waters, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and others who would know, Prine is a smiling, shuffling force for good. He is a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member and a PEN New England Lyrics Award recipient whose classic debut album, simply titled John Prine, is recognized as part of the Recording Academy’s Grammy Hall of Fame and whose songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Bonnie Raitt, Norah Jones, George Strait, Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band and many others.

Following the 2015 death of his dear friend and business partner Al Bunetta, Prine is now President and sole owner of Oh Boy Records. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife, Fiona, and enjoys spending time with their three sons, a daughter-in-law and his grandchildren.

The Tree Of Forgiveness Track List
1. “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door” (by John Prine and Pat McLaughlin)
2. “I Have Met My Love Today” ft. Brandi Carlile (by John Prine and Roger Cook)
3. “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)” (by John Prine and Pat McLaughlin)
4. “Summer’s End” (written by John Prine and Pat McLaughlin)
5. “Caravan of Fools” (by John Prine, Dan Auerbach, and Pat McLaughlin)
6. “The Lonesome Friends of Science” (by John Prine)
7. “No Ordinary Blue” (by John Prine and Keith Sykes)
8. “Boundless Love” (by John Prine, Dan Auerbach, and Pat McLaughlin)
9. “God Only Knows” (by John Prine and Phil Spector)
10. “When I Get to Heaven” (by John Prine)

John Prine plays the following UK Dates:
Thurs 2nd GLASGOW, Kelvingrove Bandstand (with John Moreland)
Fri 3rd BIRMINGHAM, Town Hall (with John Moreland)
Sun 5th CAMBRIDGE, Cambridge Folk Festival


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Dean Owens
At The Helm Records

Americana Meets The Big Country Sound of Nova Scotia On Game-Changing Release.

Like many reviewers I’ve been sitting on this disc since before Christmas; giving it occasional outings in the car and on the RMHQ office stereo; getting my head around the nuances of the new songs and to some extent the ‘big production’ which isn’t what I expected at all.
With a box full of other CD’s to review I’d always planned to write my prose in the week before release; only to find the world and it’s dog have been uploading and it has to be said; national magazines have even been printing glowing reviews.
So; does the world need my thoughts? Probably not; but as a long term fan and supporter of young Mr Owens I may as well chuck in my twopenn’orth before he disappears off into the Ed Sheeran stratosphere.
Let’s start with album cover……YOWZA… cool is that artwork? If you were in a record shop and saw that in a rack you would just have to pick it up, wouldn’t you? The correct answer is YES.
Then when turning it over the song titles all look ‘interesting’ and in keeping with that iconic imagery on the other side.
So; does the music live up to the packaging?
It’s a personal quirk but I love songs that start with 1…2…3.4!; and Last Song which is actually the first song starts in such a manner; and it’s a big ole passionate Alt. Country Rocker with a Celtic heartbeat. Even the first time I played this CD I thought that Dean has finally ‘grown into his voice’ and I still feel that way about this particular song; he sounds like he trusts himself to ‘let go’ and that’s just what he does; and there’s some mighty fine guitar and piano too btw.
With a powerful song like that as an opener there’s always the danger that the artist has peaked too soon.
Oh no…..oh no, no, no.
The title track Southern Wind follows and can only be described as EPIC… it slowly builds from humble beginnings through an atmospheric chorus through to the thunderous ending; conjuring up memories of Bob Seger and even the Allman Brothers; but hey Dean Owen sounds like neither…..this is very much HIS SONG and one that is surely destined for legendary status on some soundtrack or other; or at the very least Top Gear’s next Father’s Day CD!
Even if Dean Owens only ever recorded those two songs he could die a proud man; but there’s even better to come….trust me…..there is.
The Scotsman’s Folk roots show through the Country facade on When The Whisky’s Not Enough; and on No Way Around It he gives us a crashing Swamp Rocker Deluxe with added Gospel singers in the background, plus  there’s even a jaunty calypso nod with the bittersweet Mother and immediately afterwards Dean manages to make the delightful ballad Famous Last Words take a swerve down a Jazzy street, but it fits in perfectly well as it prepares us for the maudlin and very Scottish Madeira Street with it’s dark edges and rainswept imagery.
Many times over the last few years I’ve said in public that much of the best Americana Music I hear comes from way outside the USA and I believe this album is just such a case; as my two favourite songs here are love songs to and about two of America’s finest sons; but written and sung with a passion that only thousands of miles can bring; as both characters are probably taken for granted in their homeland.
Whereas in Europe the memory of both Elvis and Muhammad Ali are still revered to this day.
Over a virtual Twangfest on Elvis Was My Brother Dean sings about a friend that “had no Father from the age of 10” so he used The King as a surrogate “brother” listening to and learning every single word on Forty Greatest Hits and using the songs as a template for life itself. A very clever song indeed.
Most reviewers will go for SOUTHERN WIND as the ‘best song’ on this album; but listen deeply to Owen’s words on Elvis Was My Brother and then follow it with the heart-shredding Louisville Lip, featuring some truly mournful trumpet (cornet?) in the background and you will hear a songwriter on the verge of greatness.
Dean Owens has been around the scene for a very long time; and with the Whisky Hearts trooped backwards and forwards the UK and Europe plying their trade to anyone that would listen; but that hard apprenticeship is about to finally pay off as SOUTHERN WIND has all the hallmarks of being a Game-changer for this proud son of Leith; and it’s fair to say he deserves every bit of success coming his way.

Released February 16th 2018


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Sarah Shook

It doesn’t seem 5 minutes since Sarah Shook released her fabulous album SIDELONG in 2017; but she hasn’t sat around wallowing in the glory of her reviews; no sirree Bub; Sarah is releasing the follow up YEARS on 6th April; and has let us have an early copy of the video for her lead single GOOD AS GOLD.
We love it and we are pretty sure you will too.

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst SOMETIMES JESSE JAMES

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Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst
Silent City Records/Hemifran

The Essence of Americana in Six Songs.

We absolutely loved Steven Casper and Cowboy Angst’s previous album SNAKES IN MY HEAD so got really excited when this new EP arrived through the letter box and …..woah….. (spoiler alert) it just might be even better!
The CD had been in the car for over a week when I slid it into the player on a cold, dark January evening as I left the depot…..and as soon as the crunchy Bo Diddleyesque riff that opens the first song Down came growling from the speakers I just knew all of my cares were about to be blown away; and I was right.
Down goes on to be the perfect ‘driving song’ with a toe-tapping beat and a chorus that had me singing my heart out along the Washington Highway* as the flickering lights cascaded through the wet windscreen.
Part Rock and Roll and part Alt. Country and 100% pure quality; what’s not to like?
Things slow down on the next song The Best Days Of Our Lives; not quite a ballad; more a sultry soft Country Rocker……think Tom Petty covering the Flying Burritos and you will get the mood; and what a mood the band create; especially those guitars and pedal-steel.
My Wrecking Ball finds Casper driving through the night in a clapped out car to see his lover (not unlike me that first night!). It’s a theme often portrayed in Rock n Roll but this has a Hill Country thread and is a lot darker than anything Bruce ever wrote; and I like it for those very reasons.
Ooohheee….They Call It Love is sultry joy from start to finish; not quite Gothic, but not too far away and the way Casper delivers his words over some sizzling guitars will make you wonder why he’s not headlining stadium tours.
The music takes a hefty left turn for the sixth and final track here; Mi Sueno, Mi Dolor; a gentle Tex-Mex instrumental that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Quentin Tarantino Spaghetti Western; or indeed a Mavericks album.
Then of course there is the RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’ accolade which goes to the sleazy yet beautiful Born To Lose Blues; a late night Southern Shuffle worthy of the Sir Douglas Quintet or (again) The Burritos.
SOMETIMES JESSE JAMES is over all too quickly at only six tracks; but there’s always the repeat button for a smart set of timeless Americana music that will still be played in thirty years time; which won’t be the case with your Ed Sheeran downloads.

Released February 9th 2018

*That’s the ‘original’ Washington in NE England btw.

Beth Nielsen Chapman – HEARTS OF GLASS

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Beth Nielsen Chapman
BNC Records/Proper Music

Crystal Clear Songs From and For The Heart.

Aaahhh….swooon…..Beth Nielsen Chapman you say? Well; she’s a definite favourite here at RMHQ especially Mrs Magpie who had to have this disc wrenched from her hands when I needed it for review purposes.
I have no idea how she’s thought of in the USA but over here after years of touring Beth is very much an ‘International Treasure’ and has taken the place in our hearts that was warmly reserved for Nanci Griffith.
When I got around to reading the accompanying Press Release it confused me as it made HEARTS OF GLASS sound like something of a hotch-potch and possibly even ‘experimental’ when nothing could be further from the truth. Yes Beth includes some older songs that she has recorded with guitar instead of piano and a more spartan production than on previous versions; but sitting alongside the newer songs they fit in perfectly.
Opening track Come To Mine is quintessential Beth Nielsen Chapman; a delightful modern Country flavoured Folk song; that when you peel away the veneer has some very sharp observations inside the lyrics; which isn’t a surprise when you find it’s actually a co-write with Graham Gouldman and Kevin Montgomery; two of the 20th Century’s finest songwriters.
Track #2 Old Church Hymns & Old Nursery Rhymes might be familiar to older readers; but not me. Originally written for Waylon Jennings’ 1990 EAGLE album; Beth strips it back to the bone and gives her words the freedom to breathe that they truly deserve.
It’s similar tale with If My World Didn’t Have You, which she wrote for Willie Nelson and her own Child Again and Rage On Rage which are all re-visited and simplified; making them ever more beautiful than I remembered.
Fans of Beth Nielsen Chapman will already know she has had had her own problems in recent years and some of these are subtly touched upon in Epitaph For Love and of course, You’re Still My Valentine which are both as good as anything I’ve heard from Beth in recent years and Sam Ashworth’s ultra-simple production brings out two very sensitive performances.
We’ve played this album quite a bit over the last few weeks and have both fallen in love with it as a complete record; but when prompted to choose a ‘favourite song’ we nearly had an argument!
Mrs. Magpie immediately picked Child Again; as it ‘touched her’ in a way a song hasn’t for years. I can’t argue with the sentiment; and I can even picture a video for the song as I listen again; which is always a good sign….but…. Life Holds On is one of those songs that only comes along once in a lifetime, and a subject very few other songwriters could write about and make this scintillating.
As Beth herself says in the Press Release Dancer To The Drum which closes the record bookends everything quite perfectly, and yet again showcases Beth Nielsen Chapman’s prowess with the English Language in a way that will send a shiver down your spine.
HEARTS OF GLASS is the perfect title for this collection of songs; as each and every one is for and from the heart and performed in such a fragile way; thanks to Sam Ashworth’s crystal clear production that the album must surely jump into the singer’s Top 3 of all time.

Released February 9th 2018



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Ruby Boots
Bloodshot Records

Sharp, Strong and Spirited 21st Century Rock & Roll.

Some the most powerful and interesting music I’ve listened to over the last few years has come from the Females of the Species and no one record label has done more to support and promote strong and feisty women than Chicago’s Bloodshot Records; and yet again they have come up trumps with Australian born songstress Ruby Boots.
Leaving home aged 14 to pursue her dream of a career in music, Ms Boots has quite the backstory which certainly inhabits her songs. Nothing is spared on the opening track It’s So Cruel, a twisted and feisty love song (of sorts) that straddles Power-Pop and Glam with a side order of Alt-Country grit too.
This is followed by the wondrous Believe in Heaven, a multi-layered Rocker with Ruby breathlessly purring her lyrics over a thunderous piano and enough over-layered harmonies to wall paper the Sistine Chapel; and a cracking song it is too.
While very much ‘of the moment’ Ruby makes her ballads Break My Heart Twice and the feminist call to arms I Am A Woman sound absolutely timeless and make musical boundaries absolutely pointless.
First and foremost though Ruby Boots is one helluva ROCKER…..with I’ll Make It Through and Infatuation having the sensitivity of Lucinda or Tanya Tucker but the swagger of Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett too!
Choosing a ‘Favourite Track’ here is as difficult as ever; simply because everything has it’s merits and how do you compare the Poptastic title track DON’T TALK ABOUT IT with the all out Rocker Somebody Else and the classic Rocking and Rolling ballad Don’t Give a Damn? Each is a minor masterpiece and I am going to go for……..drum roll……Don’t Give a Damn as it probably does stand out from the crowd here and shows not just a singer on the cusp of stardom but a songwriter too.
One of the things I love most about Bloodshot is their ability to have a huge rosta of artists and no two sound alike; and in Ruby Boots they have discovered another gem who fits in perfectly well but compliments everyone else around her.

Released February 9th 2018

Crayon Angels – POSTCARDS (EP)


Crayon Angels
Submarine Broadcasting

Well Crafted and Quintessential English Pop/Folk Crossover At It’s Finest.

I have to hold my hands up here because Crayon Angels not just appealed to my vanity when they got in touch asking if I would review this, their second EP (saying really nice things about RMHQ) but also resorting to ‘payolla’ by including a cool badge with the CD …..and I do like a badge!
In fairness that only goes so far with me; as my time is far too precious to waste on music I don’t like; so it was a lovely surprise to hear opening track The Last Leaf sounding uncannily like mid-period Beautiful South; with singer Natalia Castiglioni’s warmly absorbing voice winning my heart in an instant on a quirky love song.
As they say themselves this trio from the Essex Hinterlands are very difficult to pin down; as they are undoubtedly a Folk Group at heart but with over-riding Pop sensibilities in the best of British traditions; as the title track proves. Delicious harmonies; a Spectoresque production coupled with intricate instrumentation and a deep and meaningful kitchen sink drama of a song combine to create a track that is quintessential English Pop music at its best.
The EP comes to an all too quick closure with the haunting Colour & Sound; which had me scratching my head until it dawned on me that it reminded me of the long forgotten River City People and Siobhan Maher-Kennedy that I loved to bits twenty odd years ago; a timeless soft-rock sound that certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio.
Then I have to swoop back to track #3 Your Sorry Self for my ‘Favourite Track’ accolade; and one of those songs that stopped me right in my tracks the first time I heard it.
Perhaps it was the mood I was in that day, or it could be the exquisite production but this tale of indiscretion really touched my heart; and really and truly showcases Natalia’s stunning vocals.
It’s discovering gems like The Crayon Angels that makes all the hours I put in on the website worthwhile. Artistes like this trio are the heartbeat of the music industry and deserve a much wider audience than the Folk Clubs of North London and the Essex Borders; but you know that don’t you….because you know a singer or band in your local area that is wasting their time singing to one man and a dog on a Tuesday night; when Ed Sheeran and Coldplay can sell-out football stadiums in 3 seconds flat.
Hey ho; trust me, this EP is a beautiful little thing and needs to be loved and cherished by people who appreciate well crafted and heartfelt music. Buy it ASAP.

Released February 5th 2018


SINGLE OF THE WEEK Lamont Dozier and Jo Harman REACH OUT (I’ll BE THERE)

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Lamont Dozier and Jo Harman

One of the joys of being a Roots Music fan is getting to see and hear the writers of world famous songs, singing their own words; and here we have a new taster of an ‘UNPLUGGED’ album by the legendary Lamont Dozier.
Duetting with RMHQ favourite Jo Harman on the Four Tops Classic REACH OUT (I’ll BE THERE)and the result is spellbinding; leaving me salivating at the prospect of not just a whole album in the same style but a UK tour too.

“Lamont’s album, ‘Reimagination’, is an acoustic re-interpretation of some of Lamont Dozier’s most famed compositions, set to be released in early Spring. The record, which includes cameo appearances from many industry notables such as Gregory Porter, Sir Cliff Richard, Graham Nash, Todd Rundgren, Rumer and more, is followed, in June, by a first ever solo UK tour for this legendary figure from the world of Motown. The tour will be an evening of unplugged acoustic backing to Lamont’s own versions of these iconic songs with music direction by bandleader/producer Fred Mollin. Lamont will be telling the stories behind these classic songs. Jo Harman will be a featured addition to the performances.”