Windswept and Interesting Tales From A Troubled Heart.
I’m beginning to wonder if there is anyone left in Northern Ireland who isn’t actually a working musician?
As you will know I have a soft spot for this beautiful part of the United Kingdom and the people in it and over the last seven or so years I don’t think I’ve heard a recording from it’s inhabitants that I haven’t liked……and that even includes a couple of ‘finger in the ear’ folk albums.
Here we have John Andrews and the not so rushed follow up to his 2014 debut release.
With so much new music to listen to I have to judge albums by the first track; and WHAM!!! did Pray capture my attention from the get go.
The first minute or so is taken up with a fire and brimstone preacher bellowing that we are all going to Hell! Then Andrews comes into the action with a punchy Rockabilly lick that follows in a similar; if a lot less angry path…..and the result is a doozy, especially as our Preacher keeps butting in and out.
The next song, Don’t Let Me Fade Away slows things down a heck of a lot with Andrews singing and playing an acoustic in the finest singer-songwriter tradition. as some soft drumming and intricate cymbal playing add to the tension of a deep and meaningful tale of lost love.
Even with only five songs to judge him by on this EP; it’s quite easy to hear what a clever and thoughtful songwriter Andrew is; with the nod to Alt. Country Wolves and his own Love Sick Blues not just showcasing his narrative skills; but also his wonderfully warm and expressive vocals too.
Then there is the stand out track Love Letter which is easily my Favourite Song here. As is often the case with artists from this tiny corner of Ireland, Andrews is obliged by a lifetime playing pubs and clubs to play every genre of music known to man in his quest to make a living; and this charming, yet quite dark tale blends modern folk with a touch of Alt. Country, a snippet of latter day Indie with a big dollop of West Coast swagger too, and the result sounds not a million miles away from one of my favourite Celtic bands of all time, the Waterboys and that is a very good thing indeed.
I doubt John Andrews will ever headline Glastonbury or Lollapalooza but that’s not always the point, is it? He has talent in abundance and ticks a lot of boxes on these five songs and deserves a much wider audience than he is currently getting in his home country.
Try it…..and buy it; you won’t regret it.
Released August 3rd 2018
I Got a Name
Croce Plays Croce.
Because we liked it so much we desperately tried not to mention AJ Croce’s dad, Jim when we reviewed his JUST LIKE MEDICINE album in 2017; but on this his latest single we can’t help it as Croce plays Croce; with this wonderful cover of Jim Croce’s I Got a Name which was originally written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel andrecorded by Jim Croce for The Last American Hero, a biopic about the life of legendary NASCAR driver Junior Johnson in 1973, and more recently featured in a Goodyear Tyres advert featuring Dale Earnhradt Jr.
Let’s just hope this is a forerunner for an album in the same vein……..but I’m not holding my breath!
Released August 24th 2018
UNTIL THE LIGHT FADES
Muscular yet Beautiful Songs From the Heart For The Heart Broken
In this technological era many acts have forgotten the effect that great cover art can have on a release; not so here with Juanita Stein’s second release; UNTIL THE LIGHT FADES.
With a nod towards some classic album covers of the 1960’s the picture of a sad and lonely young woman sitting at a street corner paints a picture made up of a thousand words all on its own; and would have made me take a risk on £10 had I seen it in a record shop.
So; does the music live up to the cover.
Yes, is the short answer.
A slow jangly guitar leads into a ghostly woman’s voice with so much echo, it’s difficult to make out what she’s actually singing the first time I heard it; but that doesn’t matter as the ethereal beauty she creates; in a way Kate Bush once mastered and harnessed; drifts over you until it’s brittle beauty almost smothers you.
Subsequently; the song itself has a really inspiring sensitiveness to it.
BANG! The electric guitars and crack shot drum kit come out of the cupboard on the second song, Forgiveness and now now Juanita takes us to the dark side of lonely street; with a song I bet Chrissie Hynde wishes she could still write!
The more the album progresses it’s evident that the opening track was just there to lull you into a false sense of security; as Juanita Stein is a bit of a Rocker Girl at heart.
This isn’t loud Rock Music though; very Alt. perhaps even a kind of Modern Indie or if I’m not wrong New New Wave, if you will.
I love the guitar playing on In Your Hands as it is deliberately sloppy; in a Ronnie Wood style, and on Silver Lining there’s even a hint of Prince in the shadows; but Juanita’s distinctive and, it has to be said……sexy voice and harmonies, takes both songs into the territory Blondie, the Bangles and The Pretenders ruled the charts with several decades ago; but Ms. Stein and gang giving them a very modern shine and polish.
As always at RMHQ we actually take the time to listen to the words and couplets that the songwriter has gone to the bother of writing; and the anger and energy that Juanita produces as she virtually spits out Easy Street and especially Get Back To The City is well worth the entrance fee alone, with it’s brilliant opening it’s opening line “Sometimes even the cool girls/end up with the assholes.”
Thankfully this isn’t all bile and venom; and I’m not even sure those words describe those two songs; as this is an album written from the heart of a young woman who is still living life; both good bits and sad, with the twang of Fast Lane and the ethereal French Film proving marvelous counter balances to the hormonal love songs that litter this album.
Then of course I must pull out a Favourite Song for your delectation; mustn’t I? Any album with a song called Cool on it will always draw my attention; and this bittersweet anti-love song certainly came close; but I’m plumping for the modern Gothic of Release Me which sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it; and you can’t ask for more than that, can you?
I’m out of touch with the music that young people like these days; but I’m pretty sure if I was an angsty young student living away from home for the first time; I’m confident that there’s more than enough here to satisfy that type of midnight heartbreak; but then again as an appreciator of well written and well produced songs sung by a distinctive and extraordinary voice it works for me too.
Released August 31st 2018
Cool, Classy and Contemporary Country
Regardless of what the Cool Kids thought, me and Mrs Magpie thoroughly enjoyed the Nashville TV series; OK it was more a Soap Country than a hard hitting look at the underbelly of Music Row; but what did you expect on Prime Time TV across the globe?
Without a shadow of a doubt our favourite character was Scarlett; the slightly neurotic singer-songwriter who was constantly looking for love. If you watched the show you will know that Scarlett; or more to the point Australian actress Clare Bowen had a beautiful voice and could deliver a heart wrenching ballad like few others in the show; and now it appears…..real life.
Which oddly enough; brings us to Clare’s debut self-titled album.
Opening track, Let It Rain has already been released as a single; and it’s exactly what you would want and expect to hear from this talented actress and that’s a good thing as it really is a Classy modern Country/Singer-Songwriter hybrid that fits into both Mrs. Magpies collection and mine too.
If there are surprises here, it’s the slower and softer songs where the production leaves Clare Bowen with nowhere to hide; as if she wants to anyway. I’m pleased to say she sounds a lot more confident than her alter-ego on Tide Rolls In, which gently builds to a big ole climax and later on the delightfully delicate Grace of God and You, she sounds a bit like the young Dusty in Memphis; but without the overpowering string arrangements.
Her choice of songs here is quite excellent from start to finish; mingling the Folk tinged Sweet William with the cinematic Doors & Corridors then the intricate Lijah and the Shadow, which sounds like it owes more to East Nashville than it does Music Row, as does Lullabye which is a brave inclusion on such a high profile release.
Choosing a Favourite Track has had it’s challenges; as Let It Rain is a great Country single and well worthy of its chart success; but the challenging Warrior which closes the record very much has its merits and was my pick; but Mrs. Magpie went slightly off piste with her choice; the heartbreaking duet All The Beds I’ve Made, (with fiancée Brandon Robert Young?) as it’s a lot ‘deeper’ than her usual choices.
To a great extent this is exactly the album I’d have expected from the character Scarlett O’Connor; but the big surprise is that Clare Bowen delivers the goods with class, cool and most of all she sounds like she was actually born to do this, and not all actors can make this transition so easily.
Released 31st August 2018
Villiers & The Villains
MUSIC CONFOUNDS THE MACHINES
Cinematic Americana For When The Sun Sets Over Avalon.
As I’ve said before our little website is meant to hark back to the days of the old school yard when someone would see you standing with an LP under your arm and ask what it was; then recommend something similar…….word of mouth marketing before it was trendy?
Which is exactly what happened here.
I can find next to nothing on the interweb to tell me who Villiers and the Villains are (Facebook mentions Tony Villiers and no one else); but if they is good enough for my mate Willie Richardson in Northern Ireland, who went to the bother of sending me their album; then they is certainly good enough for the likes of you out there!
First of all the album title MUSIC CONFOUNDS THE MACHINE appealed to me before I’d even heard a note; but when the first weary chords and Villiers nasal drawl that open first track That 1979 Situation filled the RMHQ office; I immediately felt that I was in for a rare treat indeed.
Even before you get to the final track; the big sound that Villiers and the Villains produce belies them being a local band from Northern Ireland with day jobs to pay the bills.
Kingdom of Sin; which follows is another world weary yet even more atmospheric slice of cinematic Americana with some wonderful choral harmonies that drift in and out like a High Sierra breeze; and this Villiers talking Blues type story ain’t half bad too.
For a second album (?) there’s a lot going on here; with the band strolling in a 60’s Greenwich Village Folk Rock style on Down At Ellie Mays and Little Rhoda May; then they throw in a couple of toe tappin Blues numbers with the Van Morrison Street Choir era inspired Montpelier Hill and the 80’s issue love song Mexico which very nearly melts my heart every time I hear it.
Then there are the glorious Meat For The Dogs, and The Government Man Is Coming which together must be rip-roaring highlights of their shows and then there’s the magnificent Red Wine and Reefer sounds like a young Bob Dylan guesting with the Waterboys.
Villiers and the Villains manage to drop little musical time bombs left and centre here; with the gentle When My Heart Was Broke catching me unawares last night and then had me pressing ‘repeat’ five times in a row so I could savour every word and couplet; then this morning the quirky title track, the poem Music Confounds The Machines came into it’s own and stopped being a coda to Morrison’s Coney Island and took on a whole life of its own; as Villiers warm N’orn Irish brogue reminded me of the late lamented Bap Kennedy as much as it did Van the Man; and the gentle piano backing is just perfect for this delicately intense story.
I’ve very nearly changed my mind and made that song my Favourite Track here; perhaps I will tomorrow, but I’m going with my brain and not my heart and pointing you towards another Talking Blues, The Bubble Will Burst as the words alone are worthy of a much bigger audience than they will receive; as the clever production and Villiers incisive voice as he recites this bittersweet love song/poem will astound all who hear it.
Now I’ve played the album half a dozen times; I feel like crying. Not because it’s no good…….far, far from it my dear; this album is so good it would be hailed as a minor masterpiece by the National Press and magazine if Villiers and the Villains came from Arizona, Winnipeg or even Sarf Landin; but because they are from Northern Ireland and pretty much stay within the craggy Emerald Isle they will sadly go unheralded in the UK and more importantly the US of A who would lap up music like this should they get the opportunity to hear it.
Try it, buy it…….then thank me (and Willie!)
Released July 1st 2018
BOYS OF SUMMER
Those who know me well, know how much I like a good cover version of a song…….but it has to be so far removed from the original that it’s virtually unrecognisable; and this brave, smoky, sexy and melancholic single ticks every single box I have for such projects.
I know not a jot about boy/girl duo Smoke Season, as their website is quite enigmatic about the couple and only really includes a couple of other singles that are as far removed from this haunting ballad as you can get.
Hey ho; the original Boys of Summer has been an RMHQ Favourite for decades now; and the was sexy way Gabrielle Wortman purrs Don Henley’s lyrics over Jason Rosean’s delicate acoustic guitar and occasional windswept noises leaves me in no doubt that this version is a worthy successor on the office Juke Box.
Released August 17th 2018
Ghetto Surf Music
An Exciting and Pretty Damn Unique Soulful Blues Hybrid.
My love of The Blues has been unstinting ever since I first ‘borrowed’ my elder brothers Rory Gallagher and Johnny Winter albums back in the early 1970’s; and my love remains pretty much undiminished now in 2018 as I somehow still manage to discover new artistes with their own unique way of making this historic genre fresh and indeed exciting!
Ladies and gentlemen; I present for your delectation…….Mr. Billy Hector from New Jersey.
Was it was the sparkling slide guitar on opening track Wizard of Babylon that hooked me in, or the way Hector’s distinctive voice and almost sexy guitar playing oozes seamlessly between BB King, Robert Cray and Gary Moore territory with grace and skill; but instantly hook me in he did; and when the title track Someday Baby came wailing from the speakers immediately afterwards I knew I was listening to something very, very special indeed.
Somehow Billy manages to combine Blues Rock with Super-Soul, Funk and even a touch of Jazz Rock in his superb playing on Jolene and the astonishing Road to Happiness as well as many others here too.
But, these days great guitarists are ‘two a penny’ so…….. what makes this album by Billy Hector stand out in a very crowded market is, first and foremost the quality of his songwriting.
In my eyes he can also write a love song that transcends genres like very few others can manage, with Moonlight in Her Eyes sounding like it would have blown our minds if Jimi Hendrix had recorded it; and Creeper delves into territory that very few apart from Sly Stone or perhaps Prince would dare enter; but Hector does with great composure and class!
It’s all too easy to hear why Hector has been winning Awards for decades now and was even both Hubert Sumlin’s and Joe Louis Walker’s ‘touring guitarist,’ when he gets into a groove on Hit The Road and the sweet and sassy instrumental Bareback; which I don’t think is about horse riding! But I return to Hector’s singing and his actual songs; which are all never less than excellent.
Two songs in particular stand out like bright red poppies in a field of beautiful golden wheat; and that’s the timeless Jolene (no….not that one) which has a little bit of everything in it; but sounds like no other Blues n Soul hybrid I can think of and the song that actually takes the accolade of Favourite Track by a whisker……. Butt Naked and Funk; which is exactly as cool and sexy as you’d hope for from a title like that.
There’s a lot going on here with Billy Hector merely fronting an amazing Big Band that I’ve hardly even alluded to but boy, oh boy are they red hot; evoking memories of the night I saw BB King at Newcastle City Hall when the great man allowed just about everyone to have a moment in the spotlight; but never enough to over shadow his own unique talents…..which is exactly what Billy Hector does on SOMEDAY BABY.
Released August 25th 2018
KAYA (40th Anniversary Remix)
Tuff Gong/Island Records/UMC
A Marvellous and Contemporary Celebration of an Inspirational Album.
To celebrate the original album KAYA’s 40th Birthday it is being re-released in a shiny package alongside a remix/re-imagining of all ten tracks by Marley’s son Stephen ‘Ragga’ Marley and will be available as a 2 LP on 180 gram(Green!) Vinyl and a 2 CD package too; with Stephen’s re-mixes available as a stand-alone Download too.
I’ve been putting off listening to this for absolutely ages…..simply because I loved KAYA when it first came out and have great memories of listening to it late on many a Friday night after a heavy session on the beer; and I didn’t really want anything to diminish those lovely memories!
First of all, I’m not altogether sure time has been kind to Bob Marley’s albums, as they could be a tad more adventurous than his brilliantly edited singles and were probably ‘of their time’ and what a time we all had listening to them.
As I haven’t played KAYA for years; I’m just going to review Stephen’s Re-Mixes and re-imaginings as if it was a new all of it’s own rather than a compare and contrast……is that fair?
Easy Skanking gets the party started in low key manner with Bob sounding happy and relaxed as the I Threes provide some truly luscious harmonies in the background, while a guitarist and sax player take the song into something of a Miami Vice direction; which isn’t as bad as you might think it could be.
The title track KAYA follows and we are whisked away to a mystical Caribbean island as the singer wallows and dances in the ‘falling rain’ as he prays for a ‘higher love.’ Remember Reggae songs aren’t always to be taken literally; and especially in the case of Bob Marley they can have an exquisite poetic quality to them.
So far; so ‘middle of the road’ but the classic Is This Love which still comes in at #3 has had a delightfully subtle makeover that may…….I did say ‘may,’ actually be an improvement on the original! That may be sacrilegious to many; but honestly there’s a new found clarity to the chorus that will make it perfect for radio or party around your house.
Even when Stephen has tried to make ‘Dub versions’ of songs; with Sun Is Shining and Crisis being good examples; the added bass owes more to Mark King and Level 42 than it does King Tubby or Joe Gibbs! But that’s the cool thing about this album; it’s been made ‘commercial’ and arranged for a whole new and, dare I say it……a younger audience than those of us who grew up with the original.
Obviously after all those passing years my memory isn’t what it should be; so both Time Will Tell and especially Misty Morning have been wonderful surprises with the latter now sounding like it could and should have been a hit single; or at least Stephen’s version still could be!
Then of course there is Satisfy My Soul which is as good a song as Bob Marley ever recorded and this marvelous version is easily my Favourite Track here, with barely a cigarette paper’s width separating this from the original.
As I said earlier purists will hate this album; simply because it exists; but for a whole new generation (and even an older generation with simpler tastes) this is a marvelous gateway into Bob Marley’s majestic and inspirational canon of work other than his Greatest Hits.
Released 25th August 2018
Benjamin Jason Douglas
FIRST WORLD BLUES
Flour Sack Cape Records
Slick, Smart and Swampy Country Blues.
Yet again you can thank my trusty I-Phone for finding this album for me and indeed you. OK, I’ve had it in the reviews box for a few weeks but with so many other albums from artistes that you and I know and love, to listen to this one kept getting pushed to the back.
Then last Monday on a rain swept journey to work, the opening track Tent Pole came sashaying out of the car speakers like a New Orleans funeral marching band; and I was instantly captivated.
The return journey 10 hours later was made up of the complete album as my soundtrack; and now I can’t get enough of Douglas’s raspy and wheezy voice and that’s nothing compared to his articulate way with words and a tune.
Beat Black and Blue Collar Blues which follows, is another jaunty mid-tempo song; nay ‘howl’ and hearing it that first night had me bellowing out the chorus after barely a minute; and certainly not in time with the young Nashville based singer-songwriter.
While the album refers to ‘The Blues’ it’s actually a bit of a misnomer; as Benjamin Jason Douglas (aka BJD here on in) is a crafty singer-songwriter with a toe in many camps; but manages quite easily to bring them all together under one wonderful musical umbrella.
Our young man can really Rock-a-Tune when he wants to with Digging a Stigmata, which sits quite comfortably between the low down and sultry Doc Red Blues and the oh so cool late night Jazzy tones of Funny Feeling.
It’s all too easy and even lazy to compare BJD to the likes of Dr. John and even the lyricism of Randy Newman; who must have been influences, but our Benjamin is very much his own man when it comes to writing a cool song and delivering it with his own swagger and a side order of panache; as Tchoupitoulis and the almost Swampy Gothic of Walking Down The Grain both prove.
Choosing a Favourite Track was quite easy for me as one song stood out just by it’s title alone; and that’s Raggedy Andy Williams, as the 70’s crooner is a ‘guilty pleasure’ around these here parts; and BJD’s heart rendering chorus of “honestly Alice/how did you expect/ this Raggedy Andy Williams love story to end?” sang with a croak in his already gruff and leathery voice almost had me in tears that first night in the car! I’m pleased that I’ve never suffered a break-up like this; as I’m not sure I would have come out the other end in one piece; but then again, I’m not a songwriter, and such matters of the heart and how they deal with them are what separates guys like Benjamin Jason Douglas from the rest of the pack.
But credit must also go to the epic Street Preacher and Gloria which combine to close an absolutely fabulous debut album; that is destined to be a bit of a go-to album in the RMHQ Offices for a long time to come.
I will end by going back to the beginning; because this album is the perfect soundtrack to a stormy and heartbroken night; but I’ve also played it on the big speakers as I lounged in the garden on a sunny and hot Sunday afternoon and it didn’t annoy the neighbours.
Released August 10th 2018
Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records
Captivating Country Folk Songs For a Fine Summer’s Evening.
Like many self-appointed arbiters of good taste; or music reviewers (you decide) it’s not uncommon for a review to followed by numerous e-mails stating “If you like that; you will like us…..can I send a copy of our latest release?”
Me being the musical tart that I am I rarely say “no”; so when this was offered after our latest Jeremy Nail missive I was intrigued; as he’s not an obvious act to compare yourself too; and songstress Hadley McCall Thackston from Decatur, Georgia sounds nowt like him at all; yet I think I’d love to see the pair performing together one evening.
“Pray tell, Why is that”? You ask.
The fragile opening song Butterfly strangely enough made me think of those early Nanci Griffith LP’s I still cherish. There is something delightfully innocent in the way Hadley recounts an almost poetic tale over a winsome fiddle, mandolin and acoustic guitar.
I was instantly hooked.
Then Ms Thackston cranks up the volume to Four on the snappy Ellipsis which follows; and even during that magical first play last week I was ensnared in the silken web this young lady weaves with her stories.
The accompanying Press Release describes her music as Porch to Porch music; and I can see why as the imagery this talented young woman conjures up combines the smells and sounds of not just Georgia but South Carolina where she now lives too; in the way you feel the evening heat on your shoulders as the sun comes down as family sit around sipping cool drinks in the delightful Change and later on Ghost, as well as plenty of others.
Don’t be deceived though; this isn’t a ‘simple album’ at all; the production may make the songs sound that way; but there’s a whole lot of majestic playing behind Hadley as she delivers the haunting Redbird and Devil Or Angel, which has to heard to be believed. Trust me!
It appears that Hadley is a very shy person by nature; and was originally cajoled into putting one of her songs onto Facebook; so it would be a huge disappointment if I was never to witness her singing the gorgeous Last Mountain Waltz or especially Somehow played live in an intimate setting.
Choosing a ‘Favourite’ here is as hard as ever with the ‘bonus track’ Slow Burn certainly being a contender but I’m going for the fiery Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush) which has a delightful danceable beat to it and some fascinating lyrics on a quirky love song.
There’s a whole lot to like here from a 25 year old on her debut album; as she’s a fine storyteller with a pearlescent yet slightly worn around the edges voice……again; not unlike a young Nanci Griffith; but I can easily see her appealing to the hipsters who love Fleet Foxes, First Aid Kit and even Ed Sheeran; as well as our friend Jeremy Nail of course.
Released 15th June 2018