As a teaser for her November tour and to coincide with some gigs she’s currenty playing around the UK with Connie Lush and Kyla Brox our favourite Finnish guitarist Erja Lyytinen is releasing this stunning single WITHOUT YOU today; taken from her upcoming album in the Autumn the new single was written and composed by Erja and recorded with her brand new band including Kasperi Kallio (keyboards), Tatu Back (bass) and Iiro Laitinen (drums).
We get sent a lot of music that people ‘think RMHQ will like,’ sometimes they are right but more often than not they are poor judges of our taste……but every so often a Video arrives that blows us away…..this is one such!
I know very little about this band from New Jersey….basically they have an album coming out on June 1st called Lightning Kid, that I can’t wait to hear; until then here’s their single CHOSEN ONE.
STEADY YOUR AIM
A Skilled Americana Storyteller Who Sets His Tales to Country Music.
Let’s get the artwork on the cover out of the way first…….it’s bloody awful, reminding me primarily of a Dr John bootleg I own and is certainly something I would pass over in a record shop; and it’s fair to say most of us do ‘judge a new album by the cover.’
But……my other criteria for reviewing records is always track #1, and it has to catch my attention by fair means or foul.
My head nearly exploded the first time I heard Take A Walk With Me…….Eagles type guitars and an electric organ that sounds uncannily like Garth Hudson and Sheppard’s world weary and slightly frazzled voice makes him sound like *Danny Wilson’s younger brother…..and the song itself grabbed me by the throat and demanded I listen intently.
The title track Steady Your Aim follows and even before it ends you know you are listening to a songwriter that has ‘lived life to the full’ with as many pitfalls in it as happy moments and can eloquently write songs about both sides of the human condition.
In the accompanying notes Andrew says that this is ‘something of a concept album, a musical journey’; and it might be, but for me it is just a great collection of well thought out and constructed songs that cross the divide between what we know as Alt. Country and Americana pulling the listener in both directions with ease.
In the great tradition of the Singer-songwriter Andrew Sheppard is first and foremost a consummate storyteller who sets his tales to music; and what a combination that creates.
Here At The Bottom could just as easily be a sombre solo acoustic song; and I’m sure it is some nights but here he Rocks the Country ass out of it; with some wonderful Chet Atkins influenced twang guitar and a bass and drum set up that the Tennessee Three would have been proud to create a punchy and powerful song that would be perfect for the radio on a car journey.
When you aren’t careful Sheppard punches you straight in the heart with some incisive lyrics in Standin’ Tall and the Country-Noir Lies as Cheap as Whiskey which is surely bound to turn up on an LP by one of Nashville’s major Hat acts very soon.
Andrew Sheppard not only writes from the heart but sings from there too on Holy Water and the sublimely bittersweet Red Wine & White Roses which could and should be the RMHQ ‘Favourite track’ if it wasn’t for another Country-Noir masterpiece; Travel Light and Carry On, which is not only atmospheric and cinematic but literate and expressive in a way I’ve not heard a new act perform since that first Sturgill Simpson album High Top Mountain in 2013.
It’s a very crowded market out their for artistes like Andrew Sheppard in America but in the UK and Europe he has a talent that really will be appreciated and I’m sure that he will be welcomed with open arms should he ever venture over this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Released 23rd March 2018
*Danny Wilson is the singer in RMHQ favourites Danny and The Champions of the World
Capone and the Bullets
THIS IS FUSION
A Cracking Album of Sparkling and Sparky Skatastic Songs From Scotland.
Where I live in NE England there are 3 or 4 Ska covers bands doing the rounds of the pubs and clubs to pretty much packed houses and a good night is had by all; but take away the Madness and Specials greatest hits alongside a couple of Bad Manners songs there ain’t much left; certainly nothing original.
Yet In Scotland there is and always has been a thriving scene with at any time 5 or 6 bands (with intertwining members) supplying their own original twist on all things Skatastic and not necessarily just the 2 Tone blend.
One of those bands is Capone and the Bullets and I can’t believe it was in 1998 that I bought their debut album on Jam Down Records from the Do The Dog website……20 years? Ye-Gads where does the time go?
With world domination looking ever more unlikely they split the following year; but due to popular demand they reformed in 2012 and have subsequently played numerous festival and Scooter Weekends to huge acclaim; and here have the ‘difficult follow-up album’.
To a Ska aficionado like myself opening track Freedom Train #1 is a really exciting instrumental that blows the speakers off their stands; very much in the style of originators like Harry J’s Allstars
and their ilk……a power-bass, swirling Hammond organ, sparky guitars and enough trumpets and trombones to bring down the Walls of Jericho…..what a start!
That Classic Ska sound prevails throughout the album; with ‘Fusion’ being a very apt description as there are definite elements of Soul, R&B throughout and even Power-Pop on Good Times and perhaps Hypocrite with both are as skankingly danceable as the rest.
Biff! Bop! Pow! Cruel To Be Kind and Love Story are the type of 100mph sing-along/dance-along songs that made The Specials famous and the stories interred inside both sets of lyrics are every bit as thought provoking and sharp as anything Coventry’s finest ever recorded too.
Then there is Detective, a deep Ska-Noir instrumental, and now that the tune exists we need someone like Ian Rankin to invent a Jamaican Detective who solves crimes in the hinterlands of Airdrie and Falkirk for this to be the theme tune. #Fact.
As I inferred earlier This Is Fusion is a perfect description of Capone and the Bullets ‘sound’ and nothing defines that better than our favourite song here, There’s a Light That Never Goes Out. Yes, that one …..the Smith’s classic and a long time favourite of me and my football buddies; but now Skanked Up and Slowed Down to become an edgy Ska love song; seriously it’s amazing, and if a band has the temerity to cover such a powerful song there’s no point in copying the original is it?
So, is the world finally ready for Capone And The Bullets? I certainly hope so as this is a cracking album of sparkling and sparky songs from a bunch of musicians who obviously love what they do….and you will too.
Released April 01 2018
PS Check out and subscribe to http://dothedogmusic.tumblr.com/skazine for Ska news and bargain CD’s.
Gitta De Ridder
FOR EVERYTHING A SEASON
A Pearlescent Voice That Will Break Your Heart And Songs You Will Fall In Love With.
I’ve wanted to give this album the time it takes to do it justice; but I’ve had a bit of a noisy Blues thing going on lately, and from what I know of Gitta De Ridder I knew that this was going to be a ‘sit back and concentrate’ type of record; and I was right.
There’s an otherworldly resonance to Gitta’s voice on opening song My Dear, Oh Boy, Oh Man and her intricate acoustic guitar picking is simply wonderful; and the lyrics verge on the poetic in a way vaguely reminiscent of Elliott Smith or Nick Drake.
The more I’ve sat and wallowed in this beautiful recording the more I’ve got from it; especially These Hands which sounds multi-tracked and multi-layered leaving me multi-emotional, as for an acoustic ‘Folk song’ it bloomin’ well rocks.
Here’s The Plan also comes a bit out of left-field; with it’s clock like drum beat and flowery guitar making it well worth checking out.
Obviously/Presumably? FOR EVERYTHING A SEASON will be filed in the Folk section; but there is so much more to it and the more I stretch for the correct descriptive word to describe Every Inch Naked and Knowing a Ghost the word ‘contemporary’ springs to mind; but I just wish I was more literate as these songs, and more like them are so much more interesting than that word suggests.
Wow! I must mention All Is Love at this stage, not least because it’s another sharply observed multi-layered song but includes some razor-sharp bottle-neck guitar too giving it an extra edge that I wasn’t expecting.
I mentioned Elliott Smith and Nick Drake earlier; but now I think Gitta sounds like a long lost relative of Dame Eddi Reader; and like the Scottish songstress Ms De Ridder has a very personal and expressive style of singing, with The Seasons Will Change being a very intense but beautiful four minutes and is instantly followed by No Words which is the type of deep ‘bedsit’ singer-songwriter fare that I pored over in my teens; desperately trying to unravel the meaning of life from a song.
With no National Radio outlets for this type of music any more there’s hardly ever any need for a single; but Gitta is realising The Wheel as such a marketing device; and please God let some discerning producer somewhere hear it and sneak it onto a playlist at Radio 2 or 6; because it’s just quirky enough to capture the public’s attention and if not; at least it was a contender for RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’!
That title though, goes to Baby Darling Blue which opens with a quaint child’s xylophone solo before Gitta dispenses with her guitar and croons the most delectable lullaby you will ever hear.
I’m not sure what’s left to say; there are a zillion female singer-songwriters out there; each with their own merits, but in Gitta De Ridder we have not just an excellent songwriter but an extraordinary singer too with a lovely pearlescent voice that will break your heart as you fall in love with her songs.
Released March 23rd 2018
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite
NO MERCY IN THIS LAND
Contemporary Blues With its Roots in the Southern Plantations of the 1920’s as well as 1950’s Chicago.
At RMHQ we listen to a lot of music, occasionally liking the same things but more often than not loudly disagreeing as to what is deemed ‘good’…….and I even have my own personal quality control system; especially with Blues Records.
It normally consists of Mrs Magpie rolling her eyes and leaving the room or suggesting I put my headphones on; or as is the case with this package her looking at the CD Player then me and sighing, “What the Hell is this?”
Always a sign of quality in my mind.
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite are a Grammy Award winning duo that will never top the bill at Glastonbury, but more likely a club or hall with a capacity in the low hundreds; but everyone who is in that room is there on a musical pilgrimage and will hang on every single note; which probably isn’t true of Ed Sheeran or Toby Keith concerts is it?
For the uninitiated Musselwhite is a white boy, born in 1944 who learned his trade standing side by side with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Mike Bloomfield while Harper (born 1969) is something of a renaissance man, fighting and winning the battle of being ‘The Next Big Thing’ and releasing a wide variety of albums over the last few years as well as being a famous Producer too; and the two were first introduced by John Lee Hooker.
Then there is the music.
There’s a Rock Gospel tinge to opening track When I Go which takes Urban Blues down a very dark road on the outskirts of a rundown industrial town and brings it back to life with electric shock therapy.
Man oh man……did that song send shivers down my spine from the get go?
Both men have lived such dangerous lives it’s a surprise that either or both have come out the other side; and that comes across not just in the deadly honest lyrics but the way both men deliver their parts; be it singing, playing guitar or in Musselwhite’s case blowing that magic harmonica.
When these guys sing a love song don’t expect a ‘moon in June’ couplet; Love and Trust will break your heart into a thousand pieces and Found The One is a tale of pain as much as it is romance while Nothing at All may appear gentle on the outside, this acidly emotional ballad will and should make grown men crumble and cry as women look on unsympathetically.
Hidden in the middle is wonderfully fragile Country Blues, Trust You To Dig My Grave which finds Harper trading licks on an acoustic guitar (with bottle neck) with Musselwhite wheezing into his harmonica as if it was made from solid gold and feathers.
There’s no denying that this amazing duo make very modern Blues Music but with its roots very firmly in the Cotton Fields of Georgia and Louisiana in the 1920’s and spreading to the tenements of Chicago or New York in the 50’s and 60’s as the troubles and strife that effect poor people sadly ain’t changed very much in 2018 have they?
Yet Harper and Musselwhite manage to make their sad, sad songs incredibly beautiful though, with When Love Is Not Enough taking my breath away whereas the title track No Mercy In This Land is spell binding and made me righteously angry to the pits of my stomach!
Many reviewers will pick that last song as the stand out track here; and they won’t be wrong, but I’m going for the punchy The Bottle Wins Again as my ‘favourite track’ because when you read the lyrics then hear Harper wailing them out of your speakers while Charlie blows the reeds from his harp as the band rip it up behind them; you just know that these characters have lived every word in this scarily honest song…..which is why I love the Blues, baby.
This isn’t party music and it’s destined to be played when I am all alone and probably drunk and feeling very sorry for myself and it will fit that mood just perfectly.
Released 30th March 2018
Mary Chapin Carpenter
SOMETIMES JUST THE SKY
Lambent Light Records/Thirty Tigers
A Bleakly Beautiful Re-Imagining of More Carefree Times.
If you were to ask either Mrs Magpie or myself we would very quickly telly you we were Mary Chapin Carpenter fans; and we are with a gig in Glasgow being in our mutual Top 10 of all time, and my wife even took her Mother to see Mary at Newcastle City Hall one evening when I was stuck in London; plus we own 10 of her previous 12 albums as well as Party Doll being a fixture in her car for nearly twenty years; yet……and this pains me……this album; like her last three has been ‘challenging’ to say the least.
The concept of another Mary Chapin Carpenter retrospective excited both of us; especially as it would be a re-imagining of a song from each of those 12 albums.
What could possibly go wrong?
On the one hand absolutely nothing; if you like Mary’s deep, dark and mystical last half dozen releases, but if (like me) you prefer her earlier feistier and up tempo work; quite a bit actually.
In it’s praise the Ethan John’s pin sharp production and orchestration is outstanding; giving Superman and Jericho an almost ethereal feel to them; and What Does It Mean To Travel becomes wistful and poetic with Mary virtually whispering her words to no one in particular; but perhaps herself.
Most of Ms Carpenter’s more commercial and famous songs aren’t here; and that seems deliberate, as the ones that are Heros And Heroines and The Moon and St Christopher for example are both now structured to become very sad and delicate as the singer looks back on happier times from afar; which they both probably always were but now Mary is a lot older than the woman who wrote these songs; but the sentiment in both is even more pertinent now than it was then.
Perhaps that’s why I found this album so difficult to ‘like’…….I want my Mary Chapin Carpenter to still be 27 ……and me too; but she isn’t and nor am I any more, which is why this song is even more beautiful than you will remember.
The title track Sometimes Just The Sky is the only new song here and the spark of which came from an interview with Patti Smith; and in it’s own way could be one of Mary’s finest songs of the last twenty years.
An all pervading mellow mood permeates throughout this album; but as I said earlier, none of us are getting any younger and now I finally ‘get it’ and can comfortably pick out two really special songs as RMHQ ‘Favourites’, the first is a long term favourite here and this version of This Shirt takes on a whole new meaning as the singer whispers new life into her words of love in a way I could never imagine; and will touch the hearts of many listeners who have lost a loved one in recent years rather than the relationship breakdowns that we all lived through many years ago.
The other is a song I barely remembered never mind recognised; even though Rhythm of the Blues comes from the first of the singers albums I ever bought COME ON, COME ON. This is interpretation so gut wrenching; I haven’t been able to go back to the original to do a ‘compare and contrast.’
I stand by my original feelings to some degree, as the mood here is quite bleak and never gets beyond a strolling pace; but yet again that’s what I do more of these days unlike when I was a frisky young man drinking and dancing to Passionate Kisses and Shut Up and Kiss Me at the wild parties of my youth; and those albums are still on the shelf for when I want to pretend I’m still a young man.
SOMETIMES JUST THE SKY is what is, a rather beautiful look back and re-imagining of better, more carefree times but with the benefit of hindsight……and rose coloured glasses.
Released March 30th 2018
MOON OVER MONTGOMERY
A Hot & Spicy Musical Gumbo of Southern Delights.
This album was released in late in 2017 when I was having my hiatus from reviewing following Mrs Magpie’s ‘big operation’ so has found itself moving further and further to the back of the ‘to do’ box; and even went into the Charity Box one day, but was given a last minute reprieve.
Why? You ask.
Well; even though the cover art is less than inspiring (it is!) the album came from a trusted source who included a personal note asking me to listen; which is sometimes a good sign.
But it has taken 4 months for me to follow that up and……YOWZA, YOWZA, YOWZA!
Opening track Pig Feet is intriguing; culling together some mighty fine Urban Blues with pinch of Southern Soul and a big splash of Swamp-Country in a musical Gumbo that sets the tone and mood just perfectly for what is to follow.
This really is a virtual Southern Gumbo of delights, with the hot and spicy I Feel Like Dynamite peppering the palette in readiness for the mellow and sultry Bayou Man and Runaway Love which both had me shuffling along in the kitchen one evening.
While there are six different lead vocalists listed here; each blends in perfectly well to the McKee Brothers sound but adding their own exciting dimension to their contribution; especially Larry McCray on the sexily funklicious Late at Night and Melissa Mei on the heartbreaker that is the album closer, Celebrate Me Home.
The title track Moon Over Montgomery is fascinating; not just because it swings like a Baptist Church on a Sunday morning but is actually a homage to Dr King’s 1965 Civil Rights March in that city.
More than ever before this is an album where choosing my ‘favourite track’ is nearly impossible. Do I go for the homage to buying a vinyl record, Flat, Back and Circular or perhaps You Know How I Lie featuring Jeff Robinson giving it his best ‘Smokey Robinson’ on a song about a low down, dirty cheatin’ son-of-a-B that she keeps taking back; or then again there is Kicks; a cool late night R&B croon from Bob Schultz.
But; and I will regret this tomorrow, today the RMHQ favourite track is…….Blues of the Month Club; which is not only a cool title but features some amazing guitar playing and Keyboards; and if one song was to sum up the Musical Gumbo that is Moon Over Montgomery, I think it’s this one; but each constituent track is a stand alone solid gold winner; and when heard one after the other it all combines to sound like the greatest ever Stax Revue backed by Little Feat or the Doobie Brothers.
I ran out of fingers and toes trying to count the musicians listed on the sleeve who took part in recording this record; but there are actually two McKee Brothers…..Denis and Ralph as well as Melissa Mei McKee who is a Soul Sister supreme judging by her vocal contributions!
As an Englishman who loves and fantasises daily about American music; Moon Over Montgomery ticks just about every box I have for a great night out; or in; as the case may be.
Released October 17th 2017
Nashville Singer-Songwriter Delivers the Goods Faster Than UPS!
AHA! Kim Richey……Nashville singer-songwriter and yet after releasing 8 previous albums on some rather impressive labels, is sadly best known as a Grammy Award nominated songwriter; which is a damn shame as she can certainly carry a song herself.
EDGLEND opens with the punchy The Red Line, a red hot slice of contemporary Americana with a hefty side plate of Alt. Country that rocks……there ain’t nothing to dislike in this 4 strong minutes, with Ms. Richey’s observations of all around her as razor sharp as ever.
This is followed by Chase Wild Horses; a fabulous metaphor for those long lonely nights trying to find love in all the wrong places, with all of the wrong people. This is as Country a song as you will hear this decade; and I expect all of the Nashville Stars will be beating a path to Kim’s door asking politely if they can record it on their next Platinum Album….trust me.
Only two songs in and I’ve already fallen in love with the album; how often does that happen?
It’s easy to hear in songs like High Time and Black Trees why Kim Richey is a ‘go to songwriter’ but she has a wonderful voice herself; and can tell her stories as well as anyone else; so it beggars belief why she’s not held in the same high esteem as Mary Chapin Carpenter or Gretchen Peters who she is about to open for on a UK Tour.
There are some truly beautiful songs tucked away here with the heart-rending Your Dear John and Can’t Let You go both being good enough to be lead songs on anyone else’s album; but here they just pop up to catch you unawares and then make you listen intently as Kim delivers bombshell after musical bombshell.
I know this all sounds like I’m getting carried away, and perhaps I am but I defy you to listen to Not For Money Or Love and not come up for air as the fragile story filters around your room; and……that isn’t even the best song here!
No sirree Bob! And that title doesn’t even go to the duet with the unmistakeable voice of Chuck Prophet, Whistle on Occasion which transported me back to those Gram and Emmylou songs that first introduced me to Country Music. Yup, it really is that good.
No…..for me, the best song here is actually Pin a Rose. Why? After all these years I can get a bit jaded some days; but for a lyric lover like me Kim delivers the goods faster than UPS!
“You saw a light/I saw a freight train coming/I tried to tell you he was no damn good/you heard bells/I heard the hammer falling.” Seriously? Then add a tear-ass band and you have the perfect break up/told you so song.
This album has really re-invigorated me music wise; and I hope you feel the same way about it when you hear it too.
Released 30 March 2018
The Dead South
ILLUSION & DOUBT
Dead Duck Records
Cool Bluegrass and Classic North American Folk for People Who Hate Bluegrass and Classic North American Folk Music!
When I first received this album I accidentally read the accompanying Press Release before hearing the contents…….’A signature blend of Bluegrass and Classic Folk’ it read. Yikes……all I needed was something like ‘Prog Rock overtones’ too and it might have gone straight in the bin unheard!
So, with caution and plenty of scepticism I pressed ‘play’….oh dear…..that is a banjo if I’m not mistaken…..yes it is; but within 30 seconds a grizzled voice, a mandolin and a cello joins it and the mood is immediately cranked up to 11 as Boots gets the party started with gusto.
Oh dear; I can’t believe how easily I fell under the spell of these crazy Canadians The Deep South’s spell……but who won’t with dancetastic songs like Smootchin in the Ditch, One Armed Man and Deadman’s Chew too?
There are surprises around every corner; and good ones too. I expected The Good Lord to be some kind of God Fearing Gospel song……but, Hell No! These kids know how to coral ‘lovin, cheatin, drinkin and cussin’ songs in a way that left me smiling like a Cheshire Cat.
On a similar theme it took me a couple of plays to unravel Time For Crawlin’ but when I did it really tickled me and has a chorus that just begs to be sang along to……very loud.
If you’ve not heard of the Dead South before; think if ever Quentin Tarantino made a film about the Beverley Hillbillies he needn’t look any further than Hard Day, Miss Mary and the cinematic Massacre of El Kuroke for his soundtrack.
Then of course I am obliged to choose a Favourite Song’ and I can’t look further than the epic closing track Gunslinger’s Glory with it’s Waltz-like ending which epitomises everything good about ILLUSION & DOUBT. It’s a bit Bluegrass, a bit Old Timey Country, a bit quirky and the musicianship, harmonies and singing all combine perfectly on a sublime tale of the New Old West and coming in at just over 8 minutes but sounding like 3.
I’ve seen and heard plenty of groups like The Dead South over the years; but the majority come across as too ‘reverential’ and ‘earnest’ in their quest to sound like the originators but the Dead South sound like they not only appreciate the work of their forefathers and ‘genuinely know their stuff’ but they predominantly want to have fun, and share that fun with listeners all over the world.
Well, dear reader I’ve played it a few times now and, while it does contain plenty of Bluegrass and Classic Folk; there is oh so much more in the grooves here that is actually enjoyable and their professional Punky/Sloppy approach makes it Bluegrass and Classic North American Folk for people like me who hate Bluegrass and Classic North American Folk Music!
Released March 23rd 2018