Spike Steel Records
Americana With The Emphasis on Country of the Country Rock Variety.
This isn’t meant to be a ‘name drop’ but I first encountered Jeff Plankenhorn’s name a year or more back when I was privy to a conversation between ‘Scrappy’ Jud Newcomb who was playing guitar for/alongside Slaid Cleaves and Jumpin’ Hot Club impresario Graham Anderson; on my return home I checked out a few of my favourite Americana albums and sure enough there was Plankenhorn’s name in the credits
Check your own collection…….and see how many albums he’s playing guitar and slide on. It’s scary.
But, not content with just being a guitar for hire; and why should he? Jeff Plankenhorn is slowly carving out a name on the Americana circuit as a singer-songwriter too and that reputation will only become ever more enhanced with this release.
The title track Sleeping Dogs opens proceedings in a laid back Country-Rock manner, with Plankenhorn not just proving what an accomplished guitarist he is; but what an astute singer AND songwriter he is too……the quality guitar playing is a given here on in, btw.
For an Americana act in an Alt. Country world; the emphasis here is Country of the Country Rock variety on quite a few songs here, with Homecoming being a Truck Driving song worthy of Little Feat or the Doobies; and Piece of Cake is in a similar mode too, which is very much a good thang around these here parts y’all.
After all these years Plankenhorn is certainly no ‘one trick pony’ and carefully mixes on some semi-biographical songs and scopes them out on the acoustic guitar; This Guitar is a prime example as is the duet Tooth and Nail featuring his mentor and friend Mr Ray Wylie Hubbard, which smoulders like a forest fire and the attention to details in the story are quite exceptional, for someone not regarded as a songwriter.
There’s another collaboration on the melancholic Holy Lightning; Ms Patty Griffin who creates the perfect foil for Plankenhorn’s deliberately dour vocal performance of a song so brittle you feel the couple may not actually finish it.
I very nearly chose This Guitar as my Favourite Track; and the love song to his wife Heaven on Earth certainly has its merits but after repeated plays I’m going for I Don’t Know Anything which may or may not have been written with me in mind! Okay……I know it wasn’t but it’s one of those songs that make you think “You too? I thought it was only me who thought that!” Plus it’s another classy Country Rocker of the finest vintage.
Obviously Jeff Plankenhorn’s been around a lot of great artistes and albums over the years; and with ‘Scrappy Jud’ sitting at the control desk it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the mix of light and shade here is very nearly perfect; with songs of all shades that will capture the listener’s moods at different times, with the rockier ones being the most surprising to these ears.
PS As I write this I can’t help but think that the character of Deacon Claybourne in Nashville may even be based on Jeff Plankenhorn…….just a thought.
Released May 4th 2018
Birds of Chicago
LOVE IN WARTIME
Signature Sounds Recordings
Songs of Beauty and Grace From A Very Special Genre-Defying Duo.
Is it possible, arrogant even to presume an album is going to be ‘inch perfect’ even before you’ve heard a note? I know this is true of Dylan and One Direction fans; but Birds of Chicago? Well dear reader, JT and Alli are my Dylan and One Direction and when I saw that Luther Dickenson was co-producing my fingers were shaking when I slipped the disc into the office stereo.
A little history lesson for you as I play the album for the umpteenth time this month; I first saw Jeremy Lindsay aka JT Nero at one of the inaugural JHC at SummerTyne Festivals and while words failed me in a way to describe his ‘sound’ I knew I liked it. He returned to Newcastle with a band (JT and the Clouds) in tow the following year 2011, and again blew me away.
I think it was the next year when he was billed to appear solo in the JHC Tent at Evolution Festival but actually turned up alongside Po’ Girl and the way he exchanged glances with Allison Russell made me think ‘aye aye’ but the sound the ‘Supergroup’ created was amazing and, as they say……the rest is history……who knew the Birds of Chicago were invented in a field in Newcastle?
I’m still lost for words how to describe the ‘sound’ Birds of Chicago create; this album begins with a delightful 1 minute opus of Allison ‘Mmmmming’ over some piano and a gently strummed guitar on Now/Sunlight and I knew any pre-conceived fears could easily be dismissed.
The first real song Never Go Back follows and finds JT on lead vocals and Allison providing backing vocals and harmonies worthy of Atlantic Records at their Soulful finest. While the song is a traditional Folk/Country/Americana hybrid, when Alli sings in French it made me go weak at the knees!
There’s nothing here not to like or even be confused about even if songs like Roisin Starchild and Lodestar are undefinable in musical terms; just sit back and let their beauty seep in…….you will thank me soon enough.
There is also a delightful warmth to Dickinson and Lindsay’s production; bringing out the best in the title track Love In Wartime, which is a song of hope in these troubled times; and Try which just sounds like the perfect song to listen to as the sun sets and your loved one sits opposite unaware you are looking at them.
If Birds of Chicago have a ‘signature sound’ it probably comes to the fore on Baton Rouge which has a hypnotic Jazz meets Country-Blues feel about it; with Allison Russell taking the listener on a dreamy journey to Heaven and back, without you ever leaving the comfort of your armchair.
Both JT and Alli have completely different voices and singing styles but when they combine on Roll Away and Derecho which closes the album, the stars truly align.
After all that, my selection for Favourite Track is probably the most traditional of songs on the album. On Super Lover you can picture Allison singing with a smile on her lips and her eyes tightly closed as her banjo picking carries the song until JT and the band ease in with harmonies which you don’t even notice the first 4 or 5 times you hear the song; so beautiful and spellbinding is Allison’s voice.
As I said earlier, this album is genuinely genre-defying, with the couple’s Folk background certainly coming to the fore, but it sits very comfortably alongside my favourite Alt. Country and Lo-Fi acts; but when Allison sings there’s always an underlying Jazz thread and when she plays her clarinet it makes this record and this duo very special indeed.
Released May 4th 2018
Orphan Jon & The Abandoned
ABANDONED NO MORE
Rip Cat Records
Dicey, Claustrophobic, Turbulent and Oh So Sexy So-Cal R&B.
I have a love/hate relationship with e-mails that begin “you reviewed my friend/label mates album, so I think you will like mine.”
Obviously I will be the sole judge of what music I like……..but, don’t tell anyone , I can never resist having a wee listen!
So after falling in love with the Kid Ramos album on the fabulously monikered Rip Cat Records (hope they do t-shirts) it’s the turn of stable-mates Orphan Jon & The Abandoned, who revolve around singer Jon English and geetar player extraordinaire Bruce Krupnik; with a well deserved nod to Tony Jack Grigsby and Stan Whiting on bass and drums, without whom the sound they create would not be anywhere near as ‘full’..
#Spoiler Alert…….While they could comfortably share a stage one evening, both bands are sufficiently different for me to be in love with both at the same time…….making me a bit of an R&B Tart!
Every instrument on opening track Backbone not just swings, but growls too and when Jon English sings; those notes know they’ve been hit.
Dear Lord, the next song Blood Moon is sexy, gutsy and almost demonic in equal measures as Jon brings the words up from the pits of his stomach while Bruce Krupnik uses his guitar like a shiny flick-knife in a bar fight, making it perfect for a TV show like Bosch or CSI Miami.
For a Southern R&B band Orphan Jon & The Abandoned manage to make the love songs Drive Me Crazy and Love Light sound dangerously claustrophobic and turbulent in equal measures; which is the best kind of love to find; isn’t it?
Don’t expect no ‘moon in June’ couplets here; these guys have lived a life on the dark edges of Lonely Town and describe women that you and I can only dream of in Medusa and the funklicious Sowin’ Seeds; which will have just as many women punching the air too as they dance along to the ferocious beat when played live in a seedy nightclub somewhere your Mother warned you against going to.
Like all good Blues bands OJATA are at their best when they take things low down and dirty; and that’s so very true here with Dance For Me Girl which is so very wrong on many levels……but oh so right too; and more especially Leave My Blues Alone which finds Jon English using his amazing vocals to create a spine-tingly Soulful Blues Ballad and therefore the RMHQ Favourite Song.
A close contender for that prestigious title is the final track Memories of Me and You; but as an acoustic track with some searing bottle neck; it doesn’t sound like anything else here; but shows what a great songwriter English is and how dextrous he and his band are.
My work colleagues do love a car show on the canteen TV and by sheer coincidence I watched one the day before receiving this album about a guy restoring a 55 Chevy Bel Air and the finished article was sprayed the most voluminous yellow you’ve ever seen……it was beautiful; and that is exactly the car you need to be cruising in on a sunny California Highway to get the best from ABANDONED NO MORE, especially if your hair is slicked back and you’re wearing a silk bowling shirt and a pair of RayBan tortoiseshell Clubmasters……or at least pretend you are when you’re in the Hyundai driving to work in the rain.
PS The cover artwork would certainly have grabbed my attention in a record shop; and the accompanying booklet is very nearly worth the entrance fee alone.
Released 16th March 2018
The Old Cinema Launderette
26th April 2018
This has been a funny old year for me and Live Music. It’s not so very long ago I went to 2 or 3 gigs every week; yet in 2018 I’ve only been to 5 (and walked out of two of them!); so going out on a school night after a 5.30 am alarm call for a 10 hour shift at work was quite a big deal.
But, Jerry Leger is a big deal at RMHQ after discovering him earlier this year via his new album Nonsense & Heartache, which we love with all our hearts.
Also; this amazing venue……an actual working Launderette has been on my radar for a couple of years and this was to be my debut, which again made the whole night especially exciting.
Opening act was a male/female Folk duo called *Steamtown; apparently from the pretty market town of Knaresbrough just down the road.
With time being of the essence they only got to perform 5 songs; with two being ‘about trains’, one about ‘drinking’ and two more about ‘the things that keep you awake at night.’
While undoubtedly a Folk Act, the inclusion of a low slung banjo and red hot harmonica (both played by the lady in the act) made them a lot more interesting than I’d expected with a song about the ‘traumas of dating later in life’ About It All being a highlight of the whole night.
Although not quite sold out, the tiny venue was still full enough to create a palpable sense of excitement as Jerry and his bandmates swiftly made their way to the makeshift stage in front of three industrial sized washing machines.
With only three ceiling lights alongside some buses and occasional blue flashing lights from the other side of the plate glass windows illuminating the quartet they opened their first set with the mellow and melodic Things Are Changing, which set the mood for an intimate and windswept evening of Canadiacana.
Playing fast and loose with their back catalogue alongside the new album the band delivered 21 songs in just under two hours; and not a single one felt like ‘filler.’
While I was very familiar with the new songs; the others; especially Den of Sin, Nobody’s Angel and Early Riser which felt like old friends revisiting us even though I’d never heard them before.
Of the other songs on offer, the toe-tapping Baby’s Got a Rare Gun and Big Smoke taking us back to the Rock n Roll days of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison and (although my friends disagreed) I thought the magical Den of Sin reminded me of Ram era McCartney.
With the room being so small the audience got to see all of the complex and intricate constituent parts coming together first hand that make such magical music appear so deceptively simple.
First and foremost Jerry Leger is a first-class storyteller in the best traditions of Dylan and Springsteen but there’s a distinctive air of Canadian Cool to the way he sings them, including plenty of detail but leaving space for the listener to interperate them in their own personal way.
His band are quite exceptional too; with a drummer that made every single note exciting and shiver inducing in equal measures, a bass player who could sound like gentle thunder and a heart beating when needed and a guy who made his lap-steel sizzle and shine but when he played his fiddle, the room all took a collective breath.
Add all of that together and you will find a very special night in a very special venue; and I can’t recommend seeing Jerry Leger play live or buy his albums highly enough.
The Great Untold
Considerate, warm, and full of grace.
The Great Untold is the sixth studio album from the English singer-songwriter Scott Matthews, which finds him once again recording at home (and the occasional church) which enables him to get an intimate and personal document of this collection of modern folk hymns.
With a clean, clear falsetto voice, along with with impeccable finger-picking, comparisons to Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake are not out of place, but I also hear quite a bit of John Martyn and even a touch of Paul Simon, and dare I say, Priscilla Ahn, in Matthews songs too, which aren’t sparse as much as they’re spared the weight of complications. Easy, yet not empty, there’s a dreamy cathedral quality to the music. Not religious, per se, but spiritual, sanctified, as if the subject matter is too close and personal for Matthews that he won’t take chances with. Why clutter up something that means the world to you?
“You’ll be mother’s precious gold, And I’ll see new reasons through your eyes,”
he states on the title track, obviously a paean to a newborn child, but it could also be about these ten songs, reverent as he is towards them.
There’s an evenness throughout this album too, but it’s purposeful. These are delicate elegies and descants, some thoughtful, others darker and more potent, full of depth and lyrical poetry. Take the gossamer-like musical shifts throughout “Lawless Stars” which give it a graceful integrity, the fun bounce of “Silence,” betraying its meditative subject matter. “Cinnamon” is warm sensuousness wrapped in softly picked electric guitar notes and lush synths, while the folksy harmonica and pedal steel of “Chapters” end the album in an upbeat, thoughtful mood.
This is a considerate and reflective album full of affirmations and grace, which should warm any heart.
Guest reviewer Roy Peak
Released April 27th 2018
James Scott Bullard
FULL TILT BOOGIE.
Big Mavis Music
Bourbon, Beer, Bar-B-Q and This Album as Your Soundtrack to Saturday Night.
I was nearly up to date with this Friday’s releases and had played a couple of tracks each from four albums that didn’t quite catch my attention then, slightly disheartened I pressed ‘play’ one more time. A sound akin to Richard Manuel fronting the Old 97’s arrogantly strolled out of the office speakers, as if to tell me Lord Have Mercy should have been my first pick; not my last.
WOW! Bullard has a delightfully leathery voice and his band are red hot, to the point of melting the CD Player on that opening track; and it’s fair to say……things only get better from then on in!
WOOSH! If track #1 reminded me of ‘The’ Band, it’s The Marshall Tucker Band on the next song Wicked Ways; which is Southern Rock at it’s finest with a wailing Hammond Organ fist fighting twin guitars and a thuggish bass for prominence…….and winning.
Recorded in Florida you can virtually smell the sweat on the walls and taste the shrimp and oysters on the sultry Warpath and the sassy Evil Lovin’ which somehow starts where Skynard left off; but without the long drawn out guitar solos.
Hell! I don’t know if this is Southern Rock or even Country Rock or if either even still exists in 2018; but if they don’t…… they should, because songs like Hey Hey Mama! and Jesus, Jail or Texas sit comfortably in both categories that I grew up loving in the 1970’s and 80’s, with James Scott Bullard crossing both divides like those cool Outlaw bands did on my tin pot FM radio; but couldn’t get played on today’s Country Radio if they attached a $20 bill to the record.
Although Bullard sounds nothing like Dale Watson or Sturgill Simpson, it was those guys who kicked open the door four years ago for this type of cross-bred music; which comes unashamedly from the past but with a razor sharp 21st Century contemporary edge to the stories behind the actual songs, which are every inch as important as the crashingly Twangtastic guitars and boiler-house rhythm section which may not have been the case twenty or thirty years ago.
Where the Hell to go for a Favourite Track? The Honky-Tonkin’ Next Tear was an early contender but as the sun goes down over the yard arm, and a second empty beer bottle sits beside me I’m going for Back To You, which contains a little bit of everything that is good about this album; wailing and anguished guitars, a voice that sounds like it’s been steeped in bourbon, beer and bar-b-q sauce and a story that’s a bit of a weepy too. What’s not to like?
FULL TILT BOOGIE is definitely the soundtrack to one helluva Saturday night; but many years ago I remember the term ‘driving music’ and that’s exactly what this album is too……especially on a hot Summer’s day when you have your Wayfarers on and Baseball cap pulled way down low on and a long road ahead; with a loved one waiting for you in the distance.
Released April 27th 2018
Punchy British Country Rockers and Heartbreakers Too.
It’s not being arrogant but we receive a phenomenal amount of music to review every week at RMHQ with some being from major labels and household names, but the majority are from ‘trusted sources’ and/or acts we’ve reviewed previously but an ever increasing box is from new singers/bands who have discovered the site and think their music will fit in. Selecting singles or albums from these artistes that we’ve never heard of can be quite a chore at times; but our ‘radar’ is generally quite good and in the case of Hayley McKay, last year the mention of her home town Darlington piqued our attention.
That song THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART (featured here) was pretty damn good and became our Video of the Week and got a bit of attention from American readers too.
I subsequently saw her do a showcase set at SummerTyne where my only complaint was the dress she was wearing was a bit ‘Shirley Bassey’ for a Roots Festival! Her voice and songs were outstanding; as was her band btw.
So leap forward a year and here we have her debut album…..what can we expect?
The album starts with a really fiery Country-Rocker Catching Fire; in the style of Lee Ann Womack or maybe Jo Dee Messina, Hayley sings from her toes and uses her powerful voice to full advantage as her band let rip in the background.
Things then slow down and get nicely sultry on Following The Sun; a piano led sad, blue-collar love song that not only shows off Hayley’s distinctive voice to best effect; but it’s one of a number of first-class co-writes with her band members.
Hayley also includes two songs that she wrote herself, the heart melting Don’t Give Up On Me and Matching Suitcase which treads neatly into Faith Hill territory and was an early contender for Favourite Track status; but that title goes to Ghosted, a clever co-write with keyboard player Ian St. James and featuring a sweeping theatrical production that conjures up windswept images of a broken hearted Hayley staring at a bleak landscape awaiting the return of a lost love.
My copy has a Bonus Track on it; and it’s a cover of Chrissie McVie’s Songbird that not just shows Hayley’s great taste in music; but again displays her astonishing voice which swoops and soars without ever sounding like she’s showing off.
It’s not a criticism; but if Hayley McKay has a problem it’s going to be ‘finding an audience’, as a lot of this album is quite rightly targeting fans of the renaissance in UK Country Music yet there are times I can also imagine her in a theatrical setting, breaking hearts with her delicate solo songs; but that’s a nice problem to have, isn’t it?
Released April 27th 2018
OUT FROM UNDER
Pauper Sky/Continental Records
Cinematic Tales That Criss-Cross the Darker Edges of Americana.
Baring in mind this is Michael’s 11th album, we only ‘discovered’ him a couple of years ago with the release of WILLOW SPRINGS in 2016, which we still play in the RMHQ office on a regular occasional basis.
As regular readers know I’m not a lover of reading the Press Releases before hearing the music; and that’s what happened this time too; but now I know the songs inside out it’s worth mentioning this piece of background information; as it joins the dots on the album itself.
“For nearly 20 years, singer-songwriter Michael McDermott buried himself in drugs and alcohol, and he surveys the toll his addiction took on his personal and professional life with remarkable candour. “I burned a lot of bridges and screwed things up pretty bad,”he states. “I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that it was just short of suicide by cop. I knew I had to stop, but it took a while for me to get the message.”He credits his wife and their young daughter, Rain, for finally pulling him through. “Seeing the way they look at you when you’re messed up – after a while you go, ‘I just can’t do this anymore. Something has to change.’
Opening track Cal-Sag Road begins with an atmospherically Prog-guitar interlude before McDermott’s world weary voice enters proceedings on a harrowing piece of Dylanesque sadness; based on on re-imagining of McDermott’s own drink and drug addled younger self; which made my jaw drop the first time I heard it.
This is followed by the jaunty Country-Blues tune Gotta Go To Work; which also comes from the darkest recesses of the songwriter’s seedy past but thankfully has a much lighter tone to it.
Perhaps it was initially dangerous for Michael to revisit his past for this album; but it appears to have all been worth it as he is a Master Storyteller and his previous life brings a raw honesty to Sideways, This World Will Break Your Heart and the Alt. Country Rocker Never Going Down Again which will be a sure showstopper when played live with a full band in tow, especially Michael’s wife the wonderful Heather Lynn Horton on fiddle and backing vocals.
McDermott covers a lot of territory with his cinematic tales; often criss-crossing the darker edges of Folk, Country and what we lovingly call Americana in one single song, as Celtic Sea and the title track Out From Under prove as they unravel each time you play them.
I love the way that the album is interspersed with introspective ballads in between the out and out rockers, which brings out the very best in each which is especially noticeable when the slow and punchy Knocked Down is followed by the Contemporary Rock & Roll of Sad Songs which both have a hint of Springsteen about them; but without the pomp and bluster.
It hasn’t been easy selecting a Favourite Track, as this is a good old fashioned Long Player that deserves to be heard in all its glory one song after the other; but I’m going to pick God Help Us which closes the disc; and closes it with style, class and good grace on a song whose ambiguity will touch the hearts of God Fearing Christians and Atheists too.
At times McDermott’s songs are straight forward stories set to music and his attention to detail is second to none; then there are other times you will hear the same words and notes but interpret them in a completely different manner; which is quite some feat, but one Michael McDermott manages with ease.
Released USA & Europe April 27th 2018
Released UK May 18th 2018
RUBBERBAND SESSIONS 12″ Single
A Masterclass in Phat, Funky and Sensual Grooves.
This is a bit of a dichotomy for me as in principal I’m totally against these ‘limited edition/special releases’ for Record Store Day, as these discs usually cost an arm and a leg and end up, unplayed in the collections of vinyl fetishists rather than being listened to by actual fans of the artiste involved; but hey; this amazing 4 track 12″ Single from Miles Davis is as Cool as a penguins bum and deserves a huge audience !
Over the last 40 years or so I’ve tried time and time again to ‘get into’ Jazz; but generally failed at the task but somehow only managing to fall in love with Acid-Jazz, Chet Baker and the main man himself Mr Miles Davis.
These four tracks though sound nothing like anything I’ve ever heard from the Miles before; one tune and a great big melody but four very different and very sensual and timeless re-mixes that are perfect for both ‘chilling’ and ‘smooching’ too.
“In 1985, Miles Davis shocked the music world by moving from Columbia Records to Warner Bros. Records and started recording Rubberband at the Ameraycan Studios in Los Angeles from October 1985 to January 1986. A radical departure for him as it was made up with fat funk and dirty soul grooves and would to include vocals by Al Jarreau and Chaka Khan..
Sadly the album was subsequently shelved and Davis went on to record Tutu.
32 years after Rubberband was originally recorded, the original producers, Hall and Giles have teamed up with Davis’ nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr., to finish and update the title track.
In September 2017, they invited the 12-time Grammy-nominee soulful singer Ledisi, to guest on vocals at the Village Studios in Los Angeles.”
The cover artwork is a painting by Miles Davis.
1 Rubberband Of Life featuring Ledisi (Radio Edit) 4:20
2 Rubberband Of Life featuring Ledisi 5:43
1 Rubberband Of Life (Instrumental) 5:39
2 Rubberband (Original Version) 6:30
Released 21st April 2018
As it’s a major milestone for me today, Friday April 20th 2018 I thought I’d do a sort of Top 10 of songs that have influenced me over that 60 years; or 55 years in musical terms!
As regular readers will know I have very eclectic taste which probably started in my childhood as the youngest of four brothers in the 1960’s.
Me? Born in 58 I was a child of the 70’s starting with T Rex and Slade singles which begat ‘Big Boys Music’with the Faces, Rory Gallagher and the Rolling Stones (who were actually a thread for all three younger siblings).
When you get to #1 on later you will realise that there are well over 100 other songs that have influenced me at one time or another but these 10 really are cornerstones to what you read on the Rocking Magpie on a daily basis.
So; here goes with #1
The Beatles – She Loves You.
What more can I say, my parents bought me this 45rpm single as a Christmas present in 1963 alongside a blue nylon ‘Beatle Jacket’ and a tin Beatles guitar……all subsequently lost in the mists of time but not eroded from my memory (yet).
So a timeless record that started it all surely must be #1 on my 60th Birthday, mustn’t it?