Joy Williams Front Porch Sensibility/Thirty Tigers
A Modern Day Classic That Weaves a Colourful Tapestry of Emotions.
When I received this CD last week the name Joy Williams was familiar; but I couldn’t quite place a face to the name, so it’s sat in the pile on the desk waiting for an opportunity to go into the office CD player. Time has been of the essence, so it wasn’t until today when I was heading for the hills to clear my head, that it went into the car alongside two others I felt could be worth a listen. Suffice to say the other two are still unheard and I’ve rushed home to write about Joy Williams’ second solo release ………. since leaving the Civil Wars. DOH! Of course that’s where I knew her name from and it only took thirty seconds of opening track Canary for the penny to drop. What a way to start a new record; haunting, ethereal and crystal clear production all combine with some really imaginative lyrics to not just pull at your heartstrings but stir your Soul too. In theory this type of music shouldn’t be the perfect accompaniment for a car journey; but songs like When Does a Heart Move On and Hotel St. Cecelia felt like old friends giving me a hug; although they were actually strangers meeting me for the first time. For an acoustic album that errs on the side of American Folk with an acoustic Country edge there’s not just a lot going on the words of each song; but the emotions that they create defy the simplicity of Kenneth Patengale’s production. Several songs here are quite stunning; and even breathtaking the first time that you hear them (occasionally the second and third time too) with The Trouble With Wanting and When Creation Was Young both sounding like I will need to sit with my headphones on to get the very best out of them, as they are sure to unravel even more as time dictates. First and foremost you will be swept away by Joy William’s pearlescent voice, which when she reaches for the high notes doesn’t as much ‘hit them’ as catch them and caress them into submission …… which I’ve only ever heard opera singers do before. Being as contrary as I am, I try to avoid title tracks or singles as my Favourite Song; but here you can’t get past Front Porch as the one and only Favourite as it will just sweep you away as it has me (I repeated it 7 times at one stage; like a lovesick teenager!). It’s one of those songs that will mean something different to everyone who hears it; and they won’t all be wrong; just not necessarily correct with their personal interpretation ….. that’s how great a song it is. The album is neatly tied up with the short and sweet closing song Look How Far We’ve Come; which is the nearest to a Country song that’s here and even then it has a gorgeous Gospel edge to it if you listen carefully. I’m a ‘man of a certain age’ and I ‘get it’, in the exact same way that I ‘got’ Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ and Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ nearly half a century ago; and it’s no stretch of the imagination to compare this album to those two Classics in my opinion; but what I fear is that there could/will be a lot of pretentious twaddle in reviews by the hard-line Feminist Movement when they hear Front Porch. Yep; there is a definite femininity to each song here and pulled together they create an album that women of all ages will love and cherish and try to decipher; but trust me…….. music loving men will cherish these songs just as much.
Songs, Stories and Tunes That Capture The Spirit and Majesty of the New Mexico Borderlands.
I don’t know which excites me more; receiving albums from Big Labels and PR’s promoting Household Name acts, (which sort of makes what we do feel appreciated after all these years) or the handmade self-releases from acts looking for a break who have stumbled on the site via a review of a friend or possibly an act that they are fond of. (It’s the latter, actually). Bard Edrington V from Santa Fe, New Mexico falls into the latter camp and even before I tell you about his music; my world is a better place for discovering his music! Without ever being an overtly ‘political album’ Edrington sings about his homeland of New Mexico and evokes all kinds of imagery that will stimulate your imagination like a Steinbeck novel; starting with the passionate Maidenhair, which will bring some amazing pictures to your head as you live the song alongside Bard’s gently expressive voice. As a touring musician, Edrington taps into many different aspects of Rootsy Americana to tell his strident stories; using a raw Mariachi sound on the haunting Take Three Breaths and later the deep Gold and Black Mare. I guess the subject matter and the way he builds his stories makes me think of Tom Russell, Dave Alvin and Ray Wylie Hubbard; but there’s something about his songs Southern Belle and Painted Pony which takes those three as a starting point and leaps forward into a whole new contemporary arena. As is the way in the Borderlands, musicians can flit from one genre to another in the blink of an eye; and here Bard utilises some kind of ‘Southern Gothic Blues’ on Mango Tree to tell to capture the senses and smells of this magical area. I’ve talked a few times about the ‘romance’ that Americana Music can induce in City Slickers and foreigners (like me) alike; and Edrington does that with ease and grace with the Appalachian toe-tapper Rendezvous Duel which sparkles and shines like Townes at his hoariest best; and it’s probably true of most other songs here too. Sitting here in the Spring sunshine it’s proving incredibly difficult to find a single track that I like better than the rest. Spread My Wings is a wonderful Country Love Song, with a fabulous harmonica solo and Riverside Blues shows what a magnificent guitar-picker Edrington is, and the song itself is more than a bit good too; but I’m going for the title track Espadín, as it really is the cornerstone that everything else is built around and as an individual unit has the ability to capture the essence of what Bard Erdington has tried to recreate like no other; and the guitar, mandolin and violin interplay is quite majestic too. As I said earlier, this certainly isn’t a ‘protest album’ in any shape or form; and nor is it a ‘Rock Opera’ , it’s just a guy and some friends celebrating the various cultures that collide and co-exist across the Borders of America and Mexico in the 21st Century and he’s done it in a way that is well worthy of the attention of fans of Townes, Guy, Tom, Dave and Ray or the countless others who inhabit this glorious area. While he has recorded three previous albums with his bands; this is Bard Edrington’s debut as a solo performer and really feels like a coming of age for a singer-songwriter who knows and feels what he wants to write and sing about regardless of commercial success ……. but which will surely come, as he has talent in every pore of his body.
Markus Rill & The Troublemakers Songland Blue Rose Records
Heartfelt, Intimate and Gutsy Americana Drenched Country Songs.
Mrs Magpie and I are huge fans of German singer-songwriter Markus Rill; not least because he has a very individual and distinctive voice; but his very personal stories and songs take Americana/Country Music into a our hearts with just about every song; and with Sarah Stein he created one of my very favourite songs of all time; and one you should research before reading any further. Go on…… I can wait. Back again? It’s beyond ‘good’ isn’t it? So, onto 2019 it is then Possibly just from the title Saddle Up and Ride, but certainly within 30 seconds of the opening track you know you are onto a winner, with Rill and the Troublemakers dropping a game changer of a Country Rocker with a catchy chorus and a hummable melody on us without any warning, whatsoever. Some, many songs are very personal here and many are from Rill’s clever imagination and some combine the two; and I can’t tell which is which. As a man of ‘a certain age’ Rill sings about ‘love’ in a way younger writers can’t; making the reflective The Thing With Love or the captivating A Love So Strong very accessible and resonant to grown up all around the musical world. Now I’ve listened a couple of times, there’s a ‘big sound’ here which belies the short time they spent in the studio; but that’s what comes of keeping the same band around you and constantly touring for a lot of years ……. it brings out the very best in songs like Words of Apology and the Southern Soul of Fearless, a co-write with Swede Eva Hillerd and and features Texan Elizabeth Lee on honeyed harmonies too. Even as a fan I’ve found a few great surprises tucked away that need your attention; they release their inner Rolling Stones on A Girl That’s Gone and the claustrophobic Words of Apology utilises an accordion and skillful slide-guitar in a way that could be described as ‘Dylan covering Springsteen’ ….. but probably won’t be. I’ve never asked my wife for her thoughts on the subject; but I love and empathise with Rill’s trademark ‘unrequited love songs’ and here he gives us another couple of gems in the hauntingly acoustic Emily and the brokenhearted Mistake Like Me; which may or may not have touched my heart in a way others can’t. With so much going on here, and the way the songs swing seamlessly from the gentle Americana of songs like Length of Rope, through the gutsy Inside The Wheel and coming full circle with Conscience County Jail, choosing a Favourite Song is nigh on impossible; but try I will. My first choice should probably be the insightful and clever Swampland of Your Mind, which really does conjure up some amazing imagery; and the other is another regular theme on Markus Rill’s albums; Old Man Now about the singers Father; and could easily be about my own Dad or possibly be how my sons see me. Whatever; it’s the type of song most songwriters fantasise about writing but 99.9% of the time fail miserably …….. but Rill describes this familial and very masculine love quite delightfully and very intimately too. Apparently our friend and his band only booked the studio for ten days, hopefully coming out the other end with 10 songs; but in only five days created all 15 that make up this album; and I agree ……. there’s no filler here at all; I can’t think of anything that could or should be left off. Every one’s a winner! . Like many of us outside the US of A Rill grew up with a romantic image of this fascinating country and, just like me, the music, TV and Films have taken him on a fantastic journey, with SONGLAND only being the most recent staging point; and one I can’t recommend highly enough.
Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul SUMMER OF SORCERY Wicked Cool/UMe
A Very Rock & Soul Summer Soundtrack.
Stevie Van Zandt is many things, and I won’t bore you with a list (as it would be very long); and with so much going on in his work life I think he forgets that first and foremost he’s a Rock n Roller of the finest hue in his very own rites! I was first aware of this release about a month ago when his PR Company sent a list of forthcoming releases and this diamond was tucked away in the middle…… no fanfare, no dancing girls, no fireworks…… nothing. At RMHQ we believe Little Stevie Van Zandt deserves a a big whizz band furore whenever he releases a new record; but we are funny like that. Hey ho! Steve himself must think so too, the way The Disciples of Soul throw every they have into the intro of Communion which ‘blasts the bloody doors off’ the start of the disc! For a man who has lived the life he has, Van Zandt’s voice doesn’t deserve to be this good, or indeed ‘sexy’ on a truly explosive R&B infused Rock n Roller. This is followed by the first and possibly the biggest surprise here, Party Mambo ……. but why the Hell not? Steve has always had a love of music from all 4 corners of the world (check out his radio shows) and I’m sure this delightful little missive will be a highlight of his imminent tour, probably kick starting the encores? There is something here to please everyone; with the gorgeously epic Rockers Summer of Sorcery and Superfly Terraplane sitting alongside the swinging 60’s R&B of Soul Power Twistin’ and Vortex, while the band get their funky party groove on with Gravity; and the surprise is that it’s no surprise at all that this heady concoction works. He’s done it before, but for me Stevie hasn’t quite cracked the lovelorn crooner act before as well as he does with Love Again and more especially the creamy smooth Suddenly, during which he embraces his inner Bobby Darin. Finding a Favourite Track this soon hasn’t been easy, and I’m sure this choice will change as I delve deeper into each track over the coming months; but this morning I’m going for the feisty and powerful A World of Our Own over I Visit The Blues because I love inflection and warble in his voice on the former whereas the latter is exactly what I’d dreamed of and hoped I’d hear again from the Prince of Little Italy, therefore less of a surprise. OK there are elements of E Street Band in here; and why not; but there’s also plenty of nods to Curtis Mayfield, Joe Cocker and maybe even Stevie Wonder in the shadows of a couple of tracks too…… but this is 100% Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul at their finest and indeed, grooviest from start to finish. I love the way the album swoops and sweeps with highs and lows that will blow you away the first time you hear it; and a few times you will find yourself instinctively going for the replay button; don’t just sit back and enjoy the ride……. it’s like a winding trip at sunset along the coast in an open top sports car.
I’m not sure exactly what the New York Country band the Felice Brothers is trying to do with their album Undress. There’s the usual obligatory “hip” references throughout, a bit of both Robyn Hitchcock and Donovan in the song structures, which is ‘cool’ — and just enough Mountain Goats mixed in to the Americana-ness to keep it twenty-first century current — and the excellent musicianship we’ve come to expect from the brothers Felice and their cohorts is there in every word and note. But………. I appreciate the irreverence of the title track with its updated and understated “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” type composition by way of a Saturday Night Live skit. The song “Salvation Army Girl” is all jaunty fun and retro horns and has less pretensions than anything else despite the name dropping. (Yes, we get the references, but are they necessary?) “Jack Reminiscing” seems to get its inspiration from the wrong Bob Dylan songs — is this a Dylan parody? I can’t tell. Several of the songs make me laugh in a good way, they’re all executed well, but there’s something I just can’t put my finger on, that keeps the music at an arm’s length away. I want to like this album. I DO like this album, but I’m not all in……yet. It could be that halfway through the album turns from Oasis poppiness to modern millennial Americana. Now, I have no problem with anyone being genre-fluid — heck, in this day and age I almost expect it — but it has to feel seamless not just shifting gears. You can’t just change musical clothes, you have to become the character completely. The Felice Brothers aren’t as fearless as ‘Jenny Lewis’ and they don’t take as many chances as someone like Wilco (not that they take as many as they could or should, don’t get me started), but they do seem sincere, which may help explain their popularity and longevity in the New York and even International music scene. So let’s give this latest release by the Felice Brothers a chance. It’s growing on me little by little, it just might grow on you, too.
Susan Williams & The Wright Groove It’s About Time Self-Released
Heartbreak Doesn’t Get Much More Soulful or Blue than This.
With all the ‘big hitters’ due for April release written and posted I was looking for something new and ‘interesting’ last night and flicked through 9 or 10 releases listening to snippets that would catch my attention…….. nothing, nada, nowt. Then I scrambled through the CD box and came across this; which (presumably because of the uninspiring cover art) wasn’t on my laptop. ‘That voice’ inside my head told me to give it a go……. Ooohhheee Mary and Joseph! Even the first few chords of opening track Tell Me You Love Me piqued my interest; but when Susan William’s wise, smoky and soulful voice entered the frey, I swear I got a shiver down my spine. To a greater or lesser degree a tale of a woman done wrong by her man should be dull as ditch-water in 2019, but Susan’s words sound like something that everyone from Billie Holliday through to Bonnie and Lucinda could and should have sung; but Susan Williams and her razor sharp band offer us a killer insight into this sad ole tale of a broken hearted woman. There’s the age old adage that you should never upset a songwriter; but whoever this scoundrel is in Ms Williams life is (or was) doesn’t just get it with both barrels across these crisp Soulful and Blue songs; but Susan sprays him from every angle with venom and metaphorical buckshot on One Way Street and Meet Me In The Middle. *As a side note One Way Street itself and possibly I’m Sorry could both easily be turned on their head and be sung by a man who is just as broken hearted. #JustSaying I’ve got to be careful how I talk about some of these articulate songs; as the Feminist Brigade could well come after me; but while Susan does take on the role of the woman who begs her man not to leave her on the sorrowful Please Come Back To Me and the funkilicious I Love What You Do; you can’t feel sorry for her as she just sounds lonely and desperately in L.O.V.E with a cad who, we all know is no good; but Hell…….. we all know someone like her (and him) don’t we? The singer, Bless her does get feisty too and threatens to give as good as she gets on the stinging You’ve Got Another Thing Coming ……. and I found myself rooting for her and mentally shouting “You go girl!” Hahaha. What makes these songs extra special is the classy way that Susan Williams inhabits her character and imbibes her songs with all the articulate detail normal folk only think of three days after an argument! While I’ve instantly fallen in love with this whole album two songs which actually morph from one to another tie for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song. Shame On You is not your actual run of the mill ‘cheating song;’ with Susan taking on the role of downtrodden housewife that knows she should leave; but life is not always that simple, is it……. plus in the background the band’s twin basses create a brooding atmosphere that is only lightened by the cool harmony singers; and the final line is a bonafide killer! This is immediatly followed by I’m Sorry, which may or may not be about the same characters but this lady has now found her backbone ………. and……. well; I ain’t gonna spoil the magic for you 😉 There’s a lot going on here; not least Susan William’s delightfully ‘lived in ‘voice, which is perfect for her songs; but every now and again the band are allowed the freedom to highlight the lyrics with either a seamless or stinging guitar solo from Mike Gallemore, or a taut and strained drum solo from Rob Davies, while Mike Cruse supplies the occasional flourish on the keys that makes the song take on a whole new perspective. But what really makes this album and band really special is the intriguing use of two basses; Susan Williams herself and Darryl Wright who can alternate from Jazz Lite through Funk and into Memphis Soul in the blink of an eye. I’m not altogether sure but it looks like these songs, and possibly the album itself have been around the Chicago Blues scene for a couple of years; but is now getting a worldwide release as it’s being entered into the 2019 International Blues Challenge; and if I’m not mistaken I can’t think of many, if any other ‘Self-Produced’ albums that comes even close to the heights IT’S ABOUT TIME reaches.
Bruce Springsteen Hello Sunshine (Single) Columbia Records
The music world went absolutely bonkers on Wednesday when Bruce Springsteen announced that he would be releasing a new album in June; so I presume people will be feinting at the prospect of hearing this first single; Hello Sunshine. ‘Epic Americana’ is what springs to mind;and…… yep…….. it really does whet the appetite for a whole album in this style, doesn’t it?
“Bruce Springsteen’s first new studio album in five years takes his music to a new place, drawing inspiration in part from the Southern California pop records of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The album was recorded primarily at Springsteen’s home studio in New Jersey with additional recording in California and New York. Columbia Records will release Springsteen’s 19th studio album on 14th June.”
‘Western Stars’ is available for pre-order now here.
Captivating Lo-Fi Folk From a Windswept Irish Poetic Songwriter
Regulars will know how much stead I hold first tracks in as a signal for how much I’m going to like an album; well thankfully (for me) my trusty old I-Phone 5 stumbled on two other beautiful and charming tracks yesterday which drew me to this debut album from Co. Cork singer-songwriter Anna Mieke. Now I’m in for the long haul the rather claustrophobic opening track Parallel isn’t quite the Dolores O’Riordan ‘sound-alike’ I first thought it was, and would have dismissed a wonderful album far too quickly, because of my shallowness! The song actually captures the ethereal essence of this young singer, her stories and her wonderful voice in the most contemporary of manners. If I’m going to continue using The Cranberries as a counterpoint; any youngster listening to songs like Aurillac and Warped Window on IDLE MIND for the first time will undoubtedly have the same feelings of hearing a really special talent in its infancy just like we did when we heard NO NEED TO ARGUE for the first time; this is a voice that will change lives! The two songs that my phone found for me, Arbour and Keep It Whole are both quite ethereal and possibly even Lo-Fi in a poetic Irish kind of way and will insist that you take time out of your hectic day to actually listen to every word, note and chord progression without any other distractions. I’m no longer sure an album like this needs singles to promote it; and the two that have already been released (Arbour and Parallel) don’t sound like anything I ever hear on Smooth or Magic FM! Then there is The Whole One, which is coming out to coincide with the album release and gets to sit alongside the title track Idle Mind as joint RMHQ Favourites; as back in the dark ages I can imagine John Peel, Johnnie Walker and the youthful Bob Harris all falling in love with both, as I have and force feeding them to students and young lovers snuggled up in their bedsits. Please let there be someone with a wireless show that is brave enough to play these poetic missives to a new generation of starry eyed teens. The album closes, as it starts with two songs in a similar manner. If and Epitaph allow the listener to delve deep into their psyche (and possibly Anna’s too?) trying to unravel her words which could have come from immersing herself in Yeats, Heaney and O’Conner (of course) before plucking up the courage to write her own powerful and challenging songs. It’s all too easy to file this album under Folk; it is, but there’s so much more here in the way Anna Mieke creates her compositions and delivers them in a way that both ardent feminists and grumpy old men will be able to enjoy equally as well.
An Imaginative and Loving Sideways Look at Living In LA
Probably because there are so many songs on here (13) I’ve struggled to find the time to give it it’s due desserts…… until today. A founder member of the famed Paisley Underground scene, Tolman has released 8 albums under his own moniker and 2 with his previous band True West prior to this release; yet sadly his name didn’t resonate when he sent me this shiny new disc. After playing the first two tracks, Los Angeles and Kid, in the car last Friday I realised the loss was mine; not his. For the uninitiated like me I’m not sure where Tolman’s music fits in; as there are hints at Country, Americana and even Pop in quite a few songs; but theirs also a sense of grown up humour too; especially with 405 where he somehow manages to make traffic jams on said Highway sound romantic and windswept to this old Englishman; and later Satellite Bar is the type of thing I’d expect from Barenaked Ladies or the like. Tolman himself has quite the droll singing voice; but that added to the undoubted twinkle in his eye makes his songs perfectly suitable for the more ‘mature’ of us; and I defy listeners not to smile when they find themselves absentmindedly singing along to either Yuba City or Take It Easy, Take It Slow; which alongside the the self depreciating Time Flies will be a signature tune for many of us, especially the chorus of:
“The clock it takes a stroll Every day takes its toll And you find yourself not wiser not smarter Just old. Time Flies but wisdom walks”
Come on; what’s not to like? I’d love to think Tolman’s odes to his American homeland and especially The City of Angels, can find a home there, as I worry that Randy Newman type ‘irony’ that packs every poptastic line in North Hollywood Dream and the title track Goodbye El Dorado may just be better accepted in Europe and beyond. Hmmmm ….. choosing a favourite song isn’t as easy as it might be; as a couple I’ve already mentioned should be contenders; but I’m going to give a Tie to the dryly amusing love song Do You Like The Way and the jaunty Pacific Rain; which made me smile and my toes tap, while mumbling the catchy chorus …….. again; what’s not to like? Of course there’s a place for Russ Tolman in Americana’s huge pantheon and I’m pretty sure his fans will be the type that aren’t swayed by arrogant music reviewers and rely more on word of mouth from their well honed and knowledgeable friends; of whom I now count myself as one too. PS The CD has 13 tracks and the download 10.