Josh Ritter Old Black Magic (video) Pytheas Recordings/Thirty Tigers
We’ve been fans of the chameleon like Josh Ritter for a very long time now; and have been totally blown away by the first track from his forthcoming April release album FEVER BREAKS, which isn’t just produced by Jason Isbell esq. but features the almighty 400 Unit throughout! Personally I’m already giddy with excitement.
Mandolin Orange Tides of a Teardrop Yep Roc Records
Intimate and Lucid Lo-Fi Meets Bluegrass in a Country Juke Joint.
Mandolin Orange aka Andrew Marlin & Emily Frantz have been around for ten years now and have previously released 5 albums, with each gaining praise, sales and momentum which have launched the couple/duo into the lower echelons of the Big League, yet I don’t believe I’ve heard a single note, let alone a song prior to receiving this album a month ago. How odd is that? Or is it? Perhaps it was because they hail from the Folksier end of the spectrum, which I normally don’t go out of my way to find music…… but the fault it appears was solely mine……. I’ve now fully fallen in love with this album and two of their previous releases too. With their small, but perfectly formed touring band in tow, the couple holed up in the studio for a lot longer than on previous records; which has allowed Marlin’s intimate and darkly winsome songs to evolve and grow into something very special indeed. The wordplay and story-line in opening track Golden Embers is both understated and spectacular in equal measures; and when you add Emily’s breathtaking violin playing to Andrew’s softly expressive vocals; you can’t do anything other than sit back and let it all waft over you like a Summer breeze. Not that it’s blatantly obvious; as each individual song stands alone and is here on its own merits; but after reading the Press Release and then playing the album there is a silvery theme linking each track; as Marlin delves into his past writes about the years following his Mother’s death at an early age. This knowledge helps explain the unsettling, yet beautiful melancholia that fills Mother Deer and the George and Tammy influenced duet Lonely All The Time. As I said earlier, each song has its own merits and showcases Marlin’s clever and very mature writing skills; with Suspended in Heaven and the heartbreaker When She’s Feeling Blue, somehow bridging the gap between Bluegrass and Lo-Fi with sumptuous ease. Perhaps because the songs are so personal to him, Andrew Marlin takes the lead on most songs; but when Emily steps forward on Into The Sun and Like You Used To she sent a tingle down my spine in a way that reminded me of the first time I heard Nanci Griffith. I’ve picked my Favourite Song here partly because it is a wonderful song and tune; but because the title made my smile when I first saw it on the CD Sleeve. My British friends will know immediatly why it would catch my attention; but the ‘joke’ may pass by the people in North America; as The Wolves is the nickname of a famous football (Soccer?) team in the UK! Mercifully this tightly wrapped and intense song of despair and fear is a million miles away from anything so frivolous. I will tell you how good it is…….. prior to writing this review, I turned the lights off and pressed play on the Hi-Fi just so I could get into the right frame of mind to hear it in all its primal glory. I’d barely heard of Mandolin Orange a month ago…… but after immersing myself in TIDES OF A TEARDROP I’m an unadulterated fan now.
The Delines Gosforth Civic Theatre Newcastle Monday 28th January 2019
In all of 2018 I only managed to get to six gigs; and this week I plan on going to three; of which seeing the Delines on the back of their second album THE IMPERIAL, was always going to be a highlight of not just January, but my year. The night got off to a bad start when I arrived to find the venue’s car park decimated and only about 1/6 the size it was in November meaning I had a panicky 10 minutes finding a space in a side street; then desperately trying to memorise the route for later in the evening. Then I found the lobby packed beyond belief making a much need trip to the toilet something of a battlefield experience, as them pensioners ain’t giving up their private space for nothing or nobody! Enough of my entry……….. The support act was something of a surprise to me (and the promoter!); as Willy Vlautin had met an old friend, Scottish Folk singer Alisdair Roberts the previous night in Glasgow for the first time in ten years and said, “Hey! Do you know what would be cool? Join us on tour!” Well; what was a great idea for Willy wasn’t so good for me. I’m sure what Alisdair does is truly excellent in Ye Olde Folk Worlde, but his dour and ‘worthy,’ ‘finger in the ear’ ministrations were anathema to my delicate ears, and after being shushed and tsked from some very reverential music lovers as I whispered to my mate John, I left him and them to go to the bar for a coffee and a bag of crisps. It appears that there was only a tiny gap between acts; as I missed the Delines first song because I was waiting for a rush to the bar that never materialised! When I did venture back into the main hall, Amy Boone was just about to go into I Won’t Slip Up; and within seconds I was mesmerised by her presence and majestic voice as she purred the words while she clenched her fists to suppress the dark emotions she was singing about. My notes say they performed 15 songs in about 90 minutes; with a careful balance between both COLFAX and the latest release The Imperial; and ‘performance’ is the perfect way to describe how each individual song and story is delivered. While the Cult of Vlautin devotees were salivating at seeing their leader in the flesh; Willy, like me; knows that The Delines is really Amy Boone’s band, which is why the be-suited genius prefers to remain hunched over his Gibson SG in the shadows allowing the singer to shine like a flawed diamond in the spotlight. While there wasn’t a single thing wrong with the ‘older songs’ like Wichita Ain’t So Far Away or indeed the magical The Oil Rigs at Night, the newer songs seem more fully formed, designed and created specifically for Amy Boone to bring to life like Spring flowers. Vlautin’s songwriting talent shines through in the imagery he creates in Eddie & Polly and the wonderfully melancholic song about ‘our times’ Holly The Hustle; and I can’t think of anyone this side of Tom Waits or Randy Newman who could take the subject matter of Cheer Up Charlie and turn it into such a darkly beautiful song, as he does and Amy Boone brings to life. While the songs are often dark and seedy; there are still laughs a’plenty in the intros; with Amy saying they were considering making their first video for ‘Cheer Up Charlie’ but none of them wanted to appear on screen, which led to a chucklesome couple of minutes with Willy deciding Harry Dean Stanton would play him and drummer Sean bagged the Karate Kid! I don’t remember who Amy wanted; but surely it would have to be Susan Sarandon? No? Thankfully we have the generic terms ‘Roots and Americana’ because I’m damned if I can think of a category to easily put The Delines into. There’s definitely Country sensibilities of the Gothic persuasion to Don’t Mess Around With Me; but when Amy Boone crooned He Don’t Burn For Me she criss-crossed Jazz, Blues and Soul with effortless grace and when the evening ended with Colfax Avenue followed by the tenderness of Let’s Be Us Again this modern theatre was turned into a late night Gin Joint full of sad-eyed lovers and losers sitting amid over flowing ashtrays and empty glasses as Vlautin and Boone’s words stung their hearts and souls. Phew! What a night…….. try as I might I will never understand why bands this talented are playing venues (albeit Sold Out) that hold 4-500 people and patently less talent acts are filling Arenas and Festivals. But, The Delines can be our special secret!
Ashley Monroe Sparrow (Acoustic Sessions) Warner Music Nashville
Brave, Honest and Raw Reworkings of Her Hit Songs.
Where to start? To coincide with her Sold Out (mini) UK and European Tour Ashley Monroe is releasing this ‘digital only’ astonishing acoustic reworking of 5 songs from the ‘Hit Album’ Sparrow ; as if it was actually necessary……. but thankfully she has. I really liked Sparrow; but Mrs Magpie loves it beyond words, and when I drove her car last week it was back in the CD player; and last December she was on the verge of not speaking to me when it didn’t make my Top 20 albums of 2018. Although there really were more worthy albums for me last year; my one criticism was the ‘big production’ that is the hallmark of Nashville these days; and what I think of as a ‘wrong’ has now been ‘righted’ here. None more so than the first song Orphan; which to some degree I’d actually forgot but in this version with Ashley’s amazing voice somehow sounding even more haunting as a piano, violin and cello bring out the story and words like a chilly January wind. The tragic Hands on You with only Ashley, an acoustic guitar with some occasional violin flourishes follows, and sent a shiver down my spine the first time I played it; and when Mrs. Magpie was listening the other night she turned to me and nodded (which I think means more than a Grammy Award). Perhaps it’s because I like the simpler things in life that these stripped back to the bare bone songs have taken on a new lease of life for me. The ‘hit single’ Wild Love now sounds like something you would turn to after midnight on Friday night when it’s all gone wrong and you are feeling very, very sorry for yourself…….. and you only have the energy to press ‘repeat play’ every three minutes. The original Paying Attention has become a bit of a favourite of mine; and here it becomes a really stark and even borderline Gothic Tale as the acoustic guitar gets strummed so angrily you half expect a string to snap; and whoa, whoa and thrice whoa……. the cello lives up to it’s reputation as an instrument of darkness too. The only surprise in Ashley Monroe being signed to Warner Brothers is that she is signed to Warner Brothers! From first discovering her via LIKE A ROSE in 2013 she has always struck me as a driven character who does things her way; or no way……. which isn’t kinda how the big labels like to work. With that in mind this EP is something of a brave decision for both singer and label; as in this setting there isn’t anywhere to hide; not that Ashley would ever dream of doing such a thing when it comes to her singing; and all of that dangerous magic combines on what is the RMHQ Favourite Song here; the bitterly raw and honest Keys to the Kingdom; which was my Favourite on the original and here finds Ms Monroe sounding like the great singer; and indeed songwriter she has always been destined to be. I doubt this will find it’s way into Mrs. Magpies car; but more than likely it will inhabit that special shelf on the rack for albums that will take me to a ‘special place’ as and when I need them.
500 Miles to Memphis Blessed Be The Damned Self-Release/Bandcamp
Insurgent Country-Punk For Doc Marten Wearing Cowboys.
500 Miles to Memphis are one of those bands whose name I instantly recognised, then my mind went blanks….. nothing…..absolutely nothing. Not a note appears in any of my collections. Formed in 2003 they appear to have had several incarnations following drink and drugs shenanigans while also evolving from the Cincinnati Punk scene and incorporating a bit of Kick-Ass Insurgent Outlaw Country into their music…… which all brings us around to this; their 5th album. So, it was with more than a bit of interest I slid the CD into the car stereo. Opening track, The River starts with a rousing A’ Capella chorus before launching head first into what I can only describe as Cow Punk Deluxe with industrial strength powerhouse support from the bass and drums! Not what I was expecting at all….. but very welcome at 5.30 am none the less! As the album progresses there’s an awful lot going on, from the punchy Delta Country of Bonnie and Piggie Boy, which had me trying and failing miserably to sing along twice at least. The band’s Punk background is never too far away; although this will always sit more comfortably in the Country racks of your local record store; with songs like I Said Babe and What a Waste both having the ability to scare the bejasus out of anyone wearing a Trucker cap and Wranglers. As an album, this hasn’t been the ‘easiest of listens’ for me; as I’ve had to judge my mood accordingly…….. this is as ‘angry’ as music gets at RMHQ but the 99mph Hold on Tight and In My Chest, while polar opposites in ‘style’ are destined to get even a Methodist Church gathering pogoing as if their lives depend on it. Don’t get me wrong, everything here has a melody and a chorus; these songs are very well constructed and are fun, fun, fun in one way or another…….. Save Me starts with a Church organ, which carries on through a cacophony of Country-Punk on amphetamines ….. and I did manage to shout along with this chorus. Obviously nothing here is destined for Radioland……. but two songs have already been co-opted onto a Playlist for a holiday car journey that’s planned for March; the awesome title track Blessed Be The Damned and the coolest song here; and one that could almost be called a ballad….. I’m a Bastard; which takes the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song. Where do 500 Miles To Memphis fit in on the music scene? They don’t! It’s as simple as that. In my collection they will sit alongside Jason & The Scorchers, everything on Bloodshot Records and a band I’d actually forgot about until last week…….The Real McKenzies; another band whose attitude is “‘this us, this is what we do….. you can take us or leaves us…. we don’t care.”
We are getting more and more excited waiting for the new album GOLD IN A BRASS AGE on March 8th, from David Gray…….. especially after hearing his last single The Sapling. Here’s the latest….. WATCHING THE WAVES which we love to bits.
This single first arrived a couple of weeks ago and baffled me somewhat……. but today everything has sort of clicked into place. Australian singer-songwriter Ebony Buckle’s newest single, ‘The Mermaids Said No!’ is a surreal love story that certainly echoes Kate Bush and even the glorious Scottish Folkstress Karine Polwart. The song itself relates to her latest heartache after being separated from her partner overseas for years by the Home Office. Now back with her husband in London, together they have formed a leftfield Folk Pop band with a flair for the dramatic as this fabulous song shows.
Four-time Grammy Award-winning artist Joy Williams’ has a new solo album, Front Porch, coming out on May 3 via Sensibility/Thirty Tigers and this is why we are very, very excited. The album features twelve songs including the title track, which debuts today. Each digital pre-order comes with an immediate download of “Front Porch” as well as two previously released songs, “Canary” and “The Trouble With Wanting.”
The Ponderosa Aces No Particular Way Mad Ducks Music
There’s a Honky-TonkSomewhere in Need Of This Band.
Even though The Ponderosa Aces from Calif-orn-IA are made up of band members that are way past the first flush of youth and have been playing the live circuit since before any of them could shave; there’s still a delightful and amateurish excitement to this album right from the get-go, with opening song If You Think I’ve Got a Drinkin’ Problem. A clever and part ‘tongue in cheek’ break-up/make-up song that will have you dancing around the kitchen. Country Music effects people in many ways; and when it’s as good as Come Around you can two-step around a Honky-Tonk dancefloor to it with ease or, like me either kick back and wallow in the magic; or turn it up to 10 on the car stereo…… none of which are right or wrong; but whichever you choose… you will enjoy these fabulous 3 minutes of quality music. While I no longer want a whole album of Truckin’ songs; I do like it to be a good ‘un when one does come along; and here Gotta Keep Truckin’ is right up there within touching distance of Commander Cody and Dale Watson. With so much dizzying Pedal-Steel and it’s accompanying Telecaster Twang this album is surely Classic Country? Or is it Outlaw Country? Or more than likely in 2019…….. Ameripolitan; but such titles are immaterial when you hear The Landlord’s Comin’ and the Blown My Chances as they tick every box someone wearing Wranglers and a plaid shirt will love anyways. It’s always easy to let music like this to just drift over you as you tap your toes to the Breitling type beat but listen carefully and there’s some damn fine songwriting in their too most noticeably on the delightful Come Around and Simpler Life which sound like Marty Robbins singing Willie Nelson songs (or something like that). For the guys and gals who crave ‘authenticity’, look no further than the wonderful Simpler Life, Moonshine From a Still and Fiery Skies which could all have come from Hit albums recorded any time since 1970; yet are still as sharp as a tack and perfect for Country radio RIGHT NOW. Baring in mind my difficulty in characterising the Ponderosa Aces, there could be a clue in the title of my Favourite Track here…….. Lots of Ways to Be An Outlaw, which may take it’s inspiration from the albums Johnny, Waylon, Willie etc. made back in the day; but listen to it carefully and it’s a song about living and loving in the USA in 2019! I probably receive too many albums like this; and most fall by the wayside as there’s usually a ‘Country by Numbers’ formula to them; but The Ponderosa Aces sound like they live this life and music 24/7……. this album is the Real Deal kids!
Although originally released in May 2018 this album, from Northern Irish singer-songwriter Adam Grant arrived at RMHQ in November just as I was overrun with pre-Christmas music and my ‘day job’ was leaving me the wrong side of exhausted, meaning it has kinda got a bit lost. But, because of the magic of modern technology and the fact that Adam Grant, from Co. Down in Northern Ireland, doesn’t expect to Top the Pop charts, his debut album is as relevant today as it was 6 months ago. Grant cites Indie-Punk as the music he grew up listening to, and I’m sure he did, but opening track the Rifftastic My Crowd crosses many musical thresholds for me – not least of all The Undertones and possibly even the lighter side of another gang of Northern Iris legends, Stiff Little Fingers in the way Grant makes the minutiae of every day into a glorious sing-along anthem that will have the kids pogoing as if their lives depended on it! He slows things down just as neatly on the bittersweet love song Closed Doors which follows; which shows what a clever and diverse songwriter he is. Grant takes to the piano, in an Elton John manner on the emotion drenched Avalanche; but it’s with an assortment of guitars that he really shines. The punchy title track My World is a take on ‘what could have been’ scenario as he thinks back to a teenage disco when he should have ‘asked the girl to dance’; but didn’t. Now I think about it, there’s a lot of Byrdsian type guitar playing here; most notably on This Feeling which also has more than a bit Teenage Fanclub pathos in the chorus too. But, what I most like about this album; which is very well put together for a debut; is Grant’s storytelling and the imagery that he conjures up; none more so than in two songs that sit side by side, The Fighter and the glorious four minutes of teenage unrequited love of Punk Girl, which will ring bells for many men in their upper-middle age today. Perhaps because it’s an expression I use myself; but mostly because it’s very well constructed Power Pop song with an infectious chorus and another song that is heavily influenced by The Undertones; but What Ifs and Buts is by far and away my Favourite Track here and deserves heavy rotation on Radio 6; or whatever it is students listen to when they aren’t doing exams! In theory I’m too old to appreciate MY WORLD; but a) I’ve never grown up and b) apparantly I’m regressing back to my teenage years anyways….so I’ve enjoyed every minute this has been on the stereo in the car.