I’ve always wanted to be a Jazz fan; mostly for the cool clothes if I’m honest (can you picture me wearing a beret and Clubmasters?) but a lot of it is too ‘harsh’ and way over over my head. But every now and again something cool and enigmatic comes along and blows my mind……. and this fabulous track from Que Vola has done just that this afternoon.
“Que Vola? formed when French jazz trombonist Fidel Fourneyron followed his namesake to Havana to immerse himself in the percussive music of Afro-Cuban cults. The experience sparked him to re-imagine the existing music, with a French brass section reinterpreting vocal leads, alongside Cuban percussionists. This new Afrobeat-influenced track, ‘Nganga’, is informed by the customs of the Palo religion, taking its name from the cauldron where a dead priest’s spirit is believed to remain. ”
You know me by now; I like ‘different’ and Nganga certainly ticks those boxes for me and many more besides!
Watermelon Slim Church of the Blues Northern Blues
Chicago Blues is Alive and Well and In Safe Hands.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned this album to a mate, who could go on Mastermind and choose The Blues as his Specialist Subject; and his non-plussed response was….. “Never heard of him.” The conversation ended there and then. Possibly more than any other genre, Blues Fans live in the past and refuse to admit anything remotely interesting has been recorded since 1979 turned into 1980! As I prove most months……how very, very wrong they are! This is 69 year old Slim’s 13th album, with the first being released in 1973 (the follow up game 29 years later….hahahaha.) and I guess not a lot has changed in the intervening years, as he certainly has a golden handle on the Classic Chicago sound, of which a few glorious covers litter this album in-between his own red hot songs. Church of the Blues is an apt title; especially as the first song is titled St Peter’s Ledger, a cover that I’d never heard of but sets the seal here quite perfectly; as Slim sounds like a bit of a rascal as he tries to wangle his way past the Pearly Gates; and boy oh boy can he make his electric slide guitar sizzle and squeal! There’s a fascinating mix of covers here with three songs that blew me away when I first heard them as a teenager; albeit not by the originators. I first heard Smokestack Lightning on 5 Live Yardbirds; and Watermelon Slim’s take is more of a shuffle than that or any of Howlin’ Wolf’s recordings. The dust is blown right off Muddy’s Gypsy Woman by Slim’s wailin’ harmonica and soul shaking voice; then on Highway 61 Blues; as Johnny Winter once said about something entirely different; “Now we’re gonna get low down and dirty,” which Slim does like any of the greats of old did, ‘back in the day’. Alongside the Gene Barge song Me and My Woman and Allen Toussaint’s Get Out of My Life; the cover versions are really just appetisers for Watermelon Slim’s own songs; with Holler #4 and Mini Wiconi (The Water Song) and That Ole 1-4-5 showing what a great and divergent talent this guy is. Slim’s other songs swing, shimmy and make the sweat run down your back (even in January) with the ultra-cool Post-Modern Blues, the sinister and self-depreciating Halloween Mama and the dancetastic yet politically astute Blues For My Nation proving that The Blues can still be both Classic AND Contemporary, without sounding dusty or Heavy, Heavy, Heavy. Choosing a Favourite Track wasn’t as hard as you’d imagine; as it’s another song that helped shape my musical tastes when I first heard Rory Gallagher sing it acoustically on the OGWT, and subsequently when he put blisters on the verses when played with the band on Irish Tour ’74; but today Watermelon Slim gives it an exciting shimmy and a swagger that make it sound like it was recorded round about midnight in a Mississippi Roadhouse back in the late 1950’s. Damn! This is what the Blues sounds like for me. I doubt I will ever see Watermelon Slim play these songs live; which is a shame, but the way he plays and sings shows that the Blues is Alive and Well and in safe hands.
A Beautiful and Rich Voice plus Powerful Songs that Cross The Country-Blues Divide.
WOW! That’s all you need to know……nah…… just kidding! WOW! Honestly; that’s how I felt the first time I played this album as each song unfurled before me last week. Now I find myself having to do a critique and I’m nearly ‘lost for words’! Yes…..ME! The opening stanza on first track The Lonely Talking is partly fascinating and spellbinding in equal measure. As you know I hold great stead in a powerful opening track; and this one hit me square across the nose leaving me dizzy and seeing stars. Alice Wallace sounds like a heady mix of Bobbie Gentry, Stevie Nicks and Beth Hart, as she pleads like a Country siren with a heart full of S.O.U.L. I hate it when I go back to the Press Release and find that this is Alice’s fourth album, with each previous one gaining very, very favourable reviews…….so why have I not discovered her until now? The next track, Santa Ana Winds is a scary and gut wrenching tale of the devastating fires that covered California last year; and Alice Wallace captures every nuance of the drama with her amazing evocative and soaring voice. One of the great joys of this album is the crystal clear way Alice delivers each and every song; while somehow leaving When She Cries and the Rootsy The Same Old Song simply dripping with raw emotion. Desert Rose is both windswept and interesting as this torrid tale of a young Mother trying to cross the Border with her baby to make a better life for them both unfolds like a Steinbeck short story. Oh dear; what a dilemma I have had choosing a Favourite Song. Do I go for the scorching ‘Cowboy Ballad’ Echo Canyon or the intricate singer-songwriter fayre of The Blue or the epic Top of the World? It’s actually boiled down to a ‘best of three’coin toss between the warm and tender love song Motorcycle Ride (mostly because they ride a Moto Guzzi!) and the starkly evocative Elephants which is probably where my coin is landing on; as it sounds like the type of song Joni Mitchell would write today, if she was just turning 30. While ‘my favourite song’ is primarily some kind of Feminist Anthem; just like every other song here Alice Wallace’s sensitive handling of the ‘edgy’ subject matter makes them all accessible to music lovers of all ages, sexes and colours too.
Southern Rock That Will Kick Your Butt and Break Your Heart
OH BOY, OH BOY, OH BOY! Have I been waiting to tell you about this doozy of an album! This is another CD that arrived way before Christmas, therefore allowing me plenty of time to play it at leisure (and a few times for leisure alone and not as a review session) and the time has finally come to release it out into the wild. As always we start with the opening track, and late one fateful November night I slipped the disc into the car stereo, not knowing what to expect and BANG…. I was instantly whisked back to the mid-1970’s and watching some hirsute band of bewhiskered ne’er do wells, invariably wearing flared jeans, baseball shirts, waistcoats and either Converse Chuck Taylor’s or Cowboy boots on the Whistle Test. At least one would be sporting a battered Stetson hat too……. you can’t even imagine how exciting and exotic such a sight was in my tiny mining village. And the music???? Southern Rock they called it; and it changed my life. When you hear the staggering twin guitars, diesel powered bass n drums and Wes Baylis’s grizzled and chiselled voice on opening track All Of These Years, you too will have the dust blown from the last 40 odd years and you will be a teenager all over again. For me this album has been as exciting as anything I heard way back when, with powerhouse songs like Blind Lover and Compared To a Soul both adding a 21st Century spark to a Classic sound that I thought had gone out of fashion years ago. The band’s Country Roots come to the fore a couple of times too, with Anna Lee being a tight as a drum Bakersfield diversion and the dark instrumental Red River (The Fall of Jimmy Sutherland) will surely be the intro to any encores the band play on tour. Just to show their combined versatility there’s a tearjerker of a Rock Ballad hidden away in the middle; Wherever You Are, and it could easily be the type of song to play out over the credits of some moody Crime thriller set in an edgy town somewhere in the Southern States and starring someone like Woody Harrelson or Sean Penn as the world weary cop or PI. To ‘get’ where The Steel Woods are coming from there’s a hefty clue in the songs they’ve chose to cover and what they do to them; Sabbath’s Changes is virtually unrecognisable as an intense Country Soul ballad, yet Townes Van Zandt’s The Catfish Song becomes a sultry Roadhouse Boogie, and then the Allman’s Whipping Post gets slowed down to become a dirty sounding love song and Tom Petty’s Southern Accents which closes the album is now an epic Hymn to the South that will take your breath away. Another cover came very close to being my Favourite Song here. The last couple of times I’ve heard Merle’s Are The Good Times Really Over? it’s sounded a bit dated and tiresome; but these guys give it a fresh lick of paint and oddly enough make it sound very apt for the US of A in 2019. But, there are two self-penned songs that take that Merle’s ‘message’ and run hell for leather to the touchdown zone ……. Rock That Says My Name is the first time I’ve encountered Southern Gothic in the Rock scene; but this epic tale could be about the singer himself or the country he so obviously loves. An exceptional piece of songwriting, make no mistake. The other is the title track Old News, which slows things down and takes the guys into singer-songwriter territory; but this gives the listener the opportunity to stop dancing and actual listen to their prescient words like: ” You can hate all the others because they hate you They hate the thought of you hating them too We could scream it all out ’til we’re red, white, or blue But I’d hate to think that thinking is old news, old news” Or “Let’s sing for Miss Liberty And the crack in her bell There’s a tear in Her eye But her arm hasn’t fell Yet the weight of her torch Comes with blood that’s been spilled.” Yep; Old News is by far my Favourite Song here and will undoubtedly become an anthem for their fans at every concert they ever play. This is The Steel Woods second album and the band claim it to be nearer they sound they’ve always wanted to deliver…….. and they have done that quite admirably and with Class too; and you will think so too.
This little disc of musical gems arrived at RMHQ in late October with a release date of mid-January 2019; and keeping it a secret from you all has been a bloody nightmare! Relative to the Star Quality of the inhabitants of Slim Chance I guess that 99% of the RMHQ regular readers will never have heard of this ‘Supergroup’ yes/no? So; a smidgen of background is due I suppose. a) Everyone here are stalwarts of the original Pub Rock scene and have gone on to play with and on records by just about every household name in the British Roots and Blues scene over the years. b) Slim Chance were Ronnie Lane’s original band when he left the Faces. That’s all you’re getting; because the music is too damn hot to leave on the hob any longer. A sizzling slice of Southern Swamp-Boogie called Let’s Go Home gets the party started; and if there really are Alligators in Balham, South London they will be up on their hind legs dancing their tails off when they hear this! I first saw Ronnie Lane nearly 50 years with The Faces on Disco Two on our brand new Colour TV no less, and for some reason I couldn’t take my eyes off him; perhaps it was because he was having a ball and couldn’t stop smiling as scuttled around the stage. So it’s with more pleasure than I can enunciate that I can tell you three of his songs are included here; the funky Country Blues of Chicken Wired, a magnificently slow and haunting rendition of Debris (tears will well up in your eyes btw) and one I didn’t recognise, Spiritual Babe; but it’s a song that set the hair on the back of my neck right up on end the first time I heard it. Played out to a waltz like tune with Charlie Hart stealing the show with some delightfully windswept accordion fills. If ever you’ve seen this motley crew play live you will know what an eclectic mix of Rootsy music they derive their set from; and this album is no different with Charlie Hart’s Cajun flavoured two-step Roll The Dice closing the disc and the band rocking the Folk out of The Oo’s Squeezebox too; and they all collectively tip their hats to their Gypsy-Folk Roots with the beautiful Annie; originally by Townsend and Lane on the long forgotten Rough Mix album (which was another forerunner for what we now know as Americana Music, if I remember correctly.) As with all of my reviews there has to be a winner in the form of a Favourite Track; last week it was definitely going to be the sumptuous Kew; but between today and yesterday I’ve fallen in love with Geraint Watkins’ Mr. Jones; a Bluesy belter that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Kansas Speakeasy or a North London Pub or preferably the main stage at Glastonbury (no….. I’m not drunk!). Like many albums on here this is destined to end up in the collections of Slim Chance’s existing fan base; but even a cursory listen to these songs will win them a whole new generation of hirsute and tattooed young men and women who appreciate classy and authentic Roots Music delivered with a twinkle in the eye and a song from the heart.
Gordie Tentrees & Jaxon Haldane Grit Greywood Records
A Sparkling Live Album From Two Wonderful Troubadours.
I remember being pleasantly taken aback by Gordie Tentrees 2015 offering, LESS IS MORE and here I am 3 years later taken aback again! Why? I guess it’s the timeless yet contemporary way Gordie alongside Jaxon Haldane build so much into their simple sounding Folk songs, which were recorded across five nights at gigs across Western Canada; so much so I found myself checking the CD cover several times to confirm that there really were only two people and their myriad of acoustic instruments were on each song. The opening song Armand, a Haldane/Tentrees co-write is powerful stuff indeed as Gordie sings about his friend the Dutch Folk-Singer and political activist Herman George van Loenhout aka Armand. Spiky and tender are very rarely used together; but that’s the best way to describe this thoughtful song. This the type of Singer-songwriter/troubadour fayre that I was first introduced to in the early 1970’s by my big brother Brian and even now it never fails to impress me the imagination and creativity musicians have to enable them to create songs like Bottleneck to Wire and the wonderful Holy Moly (not least for its musical-saw solo); both of which are older songs from Tentrees lovingly dusted off and tenderly sung for the delectation of people across the world. Some people think that these records are just slung together; but nothing could be further from the truth as the 2004 Tentrees song 29 Loads of Freight, which was inspired by his love for Fred Eaglesmith’s songs leads straight into the Tentrees/Eaglesmith co-write Craft Beards and Man Buns which in lesser hands could have been syrupy twee; but here it’s almost a protest song! Certainly the deadly duo seem to feel the same way about trendy-bendy things that some deem ‘cool’ annoy them as much as they do me. There are two ‘muso’ songs here too; well songs written about the sad and lonely life of the touring musician, and both will appeal to all of my musician friends, with Sideman being a 70 mph Bluesy blast on the banjo and National Steel and the sad ode to missing your children growing up, Junior will surely bring a tear to a bass players eye. Selecting my Favourite track here was a straight choice between a Willie P Bennett song Willie’s Diamond Blues, which is as sharp as a razor and as dark as night, and Tentree’s own smart, slick and savvy love song Lost; and I’m tempted to go for the latter as it’s the type of song I mostly associate with Gordie Tentrees (and now Jaxon Haldane too). Cleverly recorded with occasional applause and laughter, this album really does capture the magic that these two musicians create on stage; yet unlike ‘live albums’ of old won’t date.
A Dreamy and Laid Back Country Soul Soundtrack To Summer.
I fell in love with this album over the Christmas holidays; and it’s a good job I have a good imagination because it’s going to be my soundtrack to the Summer! The laid back groove of opening song When Comes The Morning sets the mood just perfectly, with Lewis’s warm Knoxville drawl and the bands uber-mellow backing taking you on a lazy trip to the land of Dobie Gray, Little Feet and James Taylor; if such a Valhalla exists. The first time I tried to write this review I was wearing headphones, and by the time I got to Talk About It I had to give in to temptation and just kick back and listen ‘for fun’……which is something I don’t do often enough these days. It will be all too easy to let these mellifluous melodies draw you in like the sirens of old; but Lewis’s songwriting and storytelling is every inch just as majestic on his third full length album; none more so than the swinging title track Loversity and the richly observant (People Fall Hard) Living Easy which will set the hairs on the back of your neck on end if you listen closely. There are two cover songs here; neither of which I knew, but show what excellent and astute taste Sam Lewis has. Loudon Wainwright’s Natural Disaster with it’s stinging guitar solos and punchy drumming was an early contender for Favourite Track status; and the delightful Accidental Harmony by Sam’s friend and fellow Nashville songwriter John Mann has the ability to make to ‘accidentally sing along to the chorus’ when your wife is asleep in the passenger seat! Selecting an actual Favourite Song has been as easy as it’s been difficult; as everything here has its merits and many will find their way onto several playlists for the Summer; but I’m going to stick my neck out and say Some People, with Sam sounding uncannily like a young Sam Cooke will be one of those songs that will crop up on the radio (or bloody Spotify!) and make you go “Ooh! Who is that?” Which really is the hallmark of a great song and even greater singer too, isn’t it? I’ve discovered this album just as I’ve been involved in two heated debates, with one being about ‘the death of the album and CD’; which is patently nonsense when fully formed 14 track albums like this are available and will find themselves being bought and cherished by fans for years to come – disposable music this most definitely ain’t!! The other was a side-bar during one of my many ‘ Spotify is the tool of the Devil’ tirades! With only constant touring and selling merch at those gigs or from your own website being the only way for artists to make a living in this technological age; Sam Lewis is a perfect example of my argument as for the first ten years of his mildly succesful musical career he also worked full time at Wallmart; and it was only that ‘little bit of luck’ that fell his way during the week of a second interview for a job at the Post Office in 2015 when he was also offered the support slot on a Chris Stapleton tour and, as they say, he gave up the day job and the rest is history! OK this isn’t quite A Star is Born; but I’m sure Sam Lewis must have had many moments when he thought ‘is it all worth it?’…… thankfully he has persevered and pure talent is finally winning through.
Country Gold From the Ozark Mountains via The Swamps of Sweden.
This is another one of those albums that arrives unannounced and pretty much unheralded (NO Press Release!); but a cursory listen to the first couple of tracks rushed it right up the ‘to do’ pile! Dave Rosewood doesn’t appear to have a website and his Facebook account is ‘enigmatic’ to say the least; but at least I found out that this is his debut album and came about after leaving the Ozark Mountains to live in Sweden! But…… there’s always the music! It was opening track Seeds that initially caught my attention…… a down home Country song with one foot in Allmans territory and the other firmly rooted in Bakersfield, if I’m not mistaken. There’s some mighty sweet sweet guitar, a maudlin fiddle, a pedal-steel that will break your heart and a rhythm section of industrial strength behind Rosewoods authentic and worn Country voice…… what’s not to like? It’s not apparent how autobiographical songs like the deep and mysterious Oh No More, or Blowin’ Round and Back When are; but that doesn’t matter a jot as Rosewood can write and deliver a song so rich in glorious detail and rustic charm you’d think he’d been typing away on Music Row for decades, before getting this good. While there’s a helluva lot going on behind Rosewood, and it’s quite spectacular on Waitin’ To Be Free and the title track Gold & Gravel; what I like most of all is Rosewood’s astute storytelling and the way he delivers his words with poise, balance and authority via his leathery and worn voice. In the modern way, there aren’t any obvious singles here; but two songs stand out for me, 20 Years is a magnificent tale of a man released from jail and ‘swearing not to return’……. trust me, it could and should turn up on an album by one of Nashville’s ‘hat acts’ who are on the look out for the best Johnny Cash song, that the Man in Black never wrote! The other is the RMHQ Favourite song here; Someday. Apart from saying it’s timeless and stuffed full of harmonies, sublime guitar licks and a military drum and bass that all combine to make me think I could be listening to the Fabulous Burrito Brothers, or maybe The Byrds or is it Alabama or Poco? Nope….. it’s Dave Rosewood and his Swedish mates! I’m no longer sure what Country Music actually is these days, as it appears to have splintered off into a thousand sub-genres; but this album is 100% Pure Damn Country in the spirit of Cash, Merle, Waylon and even the Allman Brothers!
Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson Don’t Let Go (single) Stony Plain Records
I was first told about the new album AMOUR (Feb 8th release) from real life ‘legends’ Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson just before Christmas; and couldn’t have been more excited, so guess how I felt this morning when this wonderful new song arrived in the Internet Post! Here’s all you need to know before listening and then pre-ordering the full album! Stony Plain Records announces a February 8 release date for Amour, a new CD teaming the roots music guitar talents of Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson. The CD was produced by Colin Linden, recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, and features a backing band dubbed “The Tennessee Valentines:” Dominic Davis – bass; Bryan Owings – drums; Fats Kaplin – violin and accordion; and Kevin McKendree – keyboards. Linden and Dickinson recruited a host of Nashville talent as guest vocalists on the new disc, including the legendary Billy Swan, who sings lead on “Lover Please” (a song he wrote, which was recorded and became a classic hit for Clyde McPhatter); as well as songbirds Rachael Davis and Ruby Amanfu; plus two of Linden’s “Nashville” TV series buddies – Sam Palladio (“Crazy Arms”) and Jonathan Jackson (“I Forgot to Remember to Forget”).
“Amour is the first collaboration between Colin Linden (Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and Musical Director for ABC-TV show “Nashville)” and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, Black Crowes) and consists of classic love songs from the Americana world. Both Linden and Dickinson are true veterans of roots music, having played with and produced some of the biggest names in the business, while displaying the mantle of countless awards and accolades to reflect that.
“Most of these songs I have known my whole life, and they reached me in the same way,” says Colin Linden about the album’s origin. “I mentioned the idea of recording them as a collection to my friend Luther Dickinson, who said it was a good idea—and that it would be cool to work on it together. Luther is not only a master musician, but also an artist with a great vision and a soulful, wonderful human being.”