Leroy From The North Health & Fitness Self-Release
Heavy, Heavy Alt. Country That Rocks.
Originally this was misfiled in my I-Tunes under the wrong name; and I was mystified when I very nearly reviewed it as a world-weary singer-songwriter’s latest release! All’s well that ends well; and now Eli WulfMeier aka Leroy From The North’s debut EP and precursor to the Autumn release of a full album can get its full deserts on RMHQ, as it’s been a late night favourite in the Magmobile on the journey home from work. Originally from Michigan and now based in LA, WulfMeier a) sure knows how to Rock in an Alt. Country manner and b) has great musical taste which really and truly influences all 5 songs here. The fast and furious duelling guitars on opening track Into The Sunset set the tone for a Classic Poco/Eaglesish hybrid that will have you shuffling your feet and playing Air-Guitar like a spotty teenager while bellowing out the crusty chorus (or that may be just me!). Who knew Country Rock could still have a melody and a chorus in 2019? This followed by Fast Friends, which again features some dazzling fretwork, but is nailed very firmly to Daxx Neilson’s Industrial Strength drumming, which actually makes a refreshing change; and WulfMeier’s songwriting and storytelling ain’t too shabby either. In his bio ‘Leroy From the North’ has played alongside a few ‘big hitters’ in the LA Alt. scene over the years, and the name Johnny Fritz popped up …… who’s Dad Country album is still a form favourite in the RMHQ stereo. Track #3 Here in My Home is a lot ‘Heavier’ than I’d have expected; oddly enough making me think of Ronnie Van Zandt fronting Jon Lord era Deep Purple …….obviously I could be wrong; but not by much. The song still fits in perfectly well and is a counterpoint to the pure prairie Country of Locked Out which it precedes. Then there is Hey Man (Hammerheads) which is a case of Leroy keeping the best (or is it The Beast?) for last, and easily the RMHQ Favourite Track here, as it is ‘heads down, pedal to the metal, full on Country Rock Thrash’ the likes of which I haven’t heard in donkeys years; and sounds like an ‘encore number’ if ever I’ve heard one! It’s not clear if these songs will appear on the forthcoming album; but I presume they will; so use this as an exquisite ‘starter’ in readiness for the Meaty, Beaty, Big n Bouncy album that is bound to light up our lives.
Lonesome Chris Todd Dark Horses E.P. Market Square Music
Impassioned and Heartfelt Northern Irish Delta Blues.
Historically I like to get my reviews up and running a week or two before the release date, but because of work/life commitments I sometimes have to take a second look at my spreadsheet to see if I’ve missed anything of interest …….. and thankfully I did that last week and found this exciting gem. Apparently Chris Todd fronts a Northern Irish (Electric) Blues Band called the Hardchargers, but has decided to go back to his Blues Roots for this release ……… and without giving anything away …… I’m mighty glad he has! The self-penned title track Dark Horses starts the EP, and the way he plays his acoustic guitar and phrases his words, the first name that sprung to mind was Jose Feliciano; wow …… can he make his guitar weep, wail and howl along with his very own words and story of the same ilk. This song and the crystal clear production are probably worth the entrance fee alone; but there’s even better to come. Normally it’s difficult for any artist to capture your attention with only four songs; especially when only two are your own and the two are covers, but the enigmatic ‘Lonesome Chris’ does this with ease; especially with the two stunning covers – Lightnin’ Hopkin’s Lonesome Dog Blues is not just scintillating and stark, it’s also accessible for anyone who wants to know what all the fuss is about when Grown men like me go all misty eyed when discussing Delta Blues; and it’s the same with his re-evaluation of Bukka White’s Shake ‘Em Down, a staple of many a Blues Set in the 1960’s and more recently rediscovered by some young friends in Newcastle. But Todd adds shine, pathos and heart in a way I don’t think I’ve heard before on any other version. The actual stand-out song here is again from Todd’s own pen and experiences. Written during a short period of homelessness in 2017 while living in England, Irishman Todd manages to capture that ‘extra something’ that only ‘The Blues’ can give in Red Lion Yard. Is it because it’s so touching? Heartfelt? Raw? Passionate? that I’ve played this song five times in succession this morning? I don’t know, but it’s an absolute stunner. There is so much to like and admire in these four songs; and not just the songs themselves but Todd’s warm and rich singing voice and not least his outstanding guitar playing which are captured in all of their glory by Cormac O’Kane’s sympathetic production.
Zervas & Pepper Endless Road, Restless Nomad Zerodeo Records/Universal Distribution
The Sound of a Laurel Canyon Summer From the Valleys.
I’m still smarting from missing SummerTyne Americana Festival 2019 as there’s always an act I’ve never heard of that blows me away; just like Zervas & Pepper did in 2015. It appears not a lot and a whole lot has happened since then for the Welsh duo; especially in America where even the legend that is David Crosby is now a fan. ‘Not a lot’ in as much as their stories, harmonies and singing styles are pretty much as I remember; but this is now a ‘Cat A’ release on a major label and the production sounds very luscious and expensive too; but never distracting from what Zervas & Pepper do best; singing from the heart. The album opens with Kathryn turning the clock back to 1968 with The Gift; a glorious Soft Rocker, with Country undertones that harks back to those halcyon Laurel Canyon days when we all thought every day was a holiday. It’s all too easy to drift aimlessly through the songs that make up ENDLESS ROAD, RESTLESS NOMAD, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all; especially during these balmy days of Summer; but then you will miss out on some wonderful songs that should be listened to quite intently; such is the cleverness of the couple’s songwriting. The two very disparate songs that make up the album title Endless Road which has Kathryn’s amazing voice taking us on an epic emotional journey and when Paul goes all ‘James Taylor’ on Restless Nomad; musicians of all persuasions will know exactly where he’s coming from (as will quite a few listeners with proper day jobs too!). With three albums already under their belts; there’s now a distinct maturity to the couple’s complex storytelling; yet all are accessible regardless of your approach to music; Cruising Clear sounds almost too perfect; but keep listening and the story peels away to reveal something that could have been on one of the early Eagles albums; while Gas Bottle Blue is a quintessentially British song masquerading as Americana and will sound perfect drifting out of the car radio on a sunny afternoon. Another track that deserves your attention is Salvador, not just because of Paul’s exquisite guitar playing but the way the beautiful story unfurls leaving you smiling and almost breathless by the end. Selecting a Favourite Song is rarely easy; and with so many here that could be Hit Singles (if such things still exist for our generation); but Catacombs and There Is Only Love really do stand out; and would on the wireless too; but I’m going to choose the charismatic Indian Seas which closes the album as it’s a bit left of centre and I don’t think Kathryn Pepper has ever sung finer…… and that’s saying something! This album sounds like a game changer for the couple who are fiercely proud of their Welsh roots, because Zervas & Pepper don’t really fit into the burgeoning British Country scene, as they transcend borders with grace…….. they are now a truly International Americana act that sit comfortably in all genres of this Musical Gumbo.
Griff Hamlin and The Single Barrel Blues Band I’ll Drink to That Self-Release
Luxurious Big Band Rhythm & Blues For the Connoisseur and Beginner Alike.
Probably more famous for his Guitar instructional videos and YouTube channel, Griff Hamlin has put something of an All-Star band together to release this ‘debut album’ by his latest inception, The Single Barrel Blues Band; and a finer name for what you will hear I can’t imagine. With the emphasis on the Rhythm half of Rhythm and Blues opening track Almost Level With The Ground will not just have your toes a’tappin and your hips swivelling, but your memory bank telling you “that is you, that is!” In the Classic Blues tradition this song is about ‘drinking your worries away on a Saturday night’ and it’s quality through and through. To some degree there are no surprises here; but who wants surprises from Rhythm and Blues? Certainly not me …….. I just want to be entertained; and that’s just what these cats do; with Down and Out shimmering and shaking while Nothing Better simply sizzles like bacon and eggs on Sunday morning; and it’s just as tasty! While I don’t know Hamlin’s back catalogue; he and The Single Barrel Blues Band reinvigorate a couple of his own older songs; and crikey Moses are they red hot!! Louisiana Holiday and Got To End have a Big Band feel to them, with Tim Aker’s horn section giving it a mystical 50’s Nightclub feeling, while Hamlin’s singing voice slides deep into crooning territory on the latter, while he seriously makes his guitar weep with joy. There are two songs on the album that I’ve wrestled with as to which is my Favourite Song; one is again from the back catalogue; Where Would I Begin is a rare beauty of a love song and just perfect for late in the evening; and I can imagine someone like Tony Bennett or even Harry Connick Jr keeping the exact same arrangement and making it into a huge worldwide hit, it’s so good. The other is the album closer Bourbon and a Pistol which is pretty much a case of ‘keeping the best until last’ with Hamlin and Band regaling us with a really special ‘cheating tale’ in the style of ……….. well, themselves really! While I said earlier that there are ‘no real surprises’ here; that’s the big surprise; Griff Hamlin and The Single Barrel Blues Band treat the Classic Rhythm and Blues genre with huge respect; but make the songs extra spicy and very contemporary too; which is quite an achievement.
The Gunboat Diplomats Judgment Road (Single) Self-Release
There’s been a lot going on recently in my ‘personal life’ and coupled with the extreme heat across the UK I’ve been left feeling a bit weary; and not in the mood for listening to new music. Then, last night along came an e-mail from ‘Gunboat’ Smith leader of The Gunboat Diplomats who are a ‘song shop that records pop music with a vintage vibe in a variety of genres’; well; that piqued my interest as it could be the by-line for RMHQ itself! He hasn’t told me a lot about the band; but linked me to this fabulous rocking slice of rural Americana; equal parts Bruce, Waco Brothers and Chuck Prophet! I’ve not had time to listen to the rest of their “Manifest Destiny project” also named JUDGMENT ROAD, but young Gunboat assures me that there are Rootsy tunes a’plenty and a Motownish R&B number and even a Reggae song too on the album ……. and personally, I can’t wait!
Treading The Fine Line Between Contemporary Country and Americana With Ease
For someone who has been ‘on the scene’ for a whole lot of years Chuck Hawthorne isn’t the most prolific of recording artists; with this being only his second release and a follow up to the debut disc in 2015, Silver Line (which we loved). Even this release only came about when Chuck received a copy of his friend and ‘Original Outlaw’ Richard Dobson’s posthumous release I Hear Singing; and especially the beautiful I Will Fight No More Forever, which Chuck has faithfully recorded and has chosen to close his album with. The evocative Such is Life (C’est La Vie) an epic tale of a Biker’s ‘last ever ride’ on ’46 Indian opens proceedings and sets the mood quite perfectly for a series of stories and anecdotes that couldn’t be more Americana if each came packaged in the Stars and Stripes. Like so many before him, Chuck Hawthorne is obviously a mighty fine songwriter, but what sets him apart is his expressively warm voice which draws the you in as if you are listening to a secret. Prime examples are Standing Alone and Broken Good; but it’s true of just about every song here. While there’s a definite ‘taste’ of Don Williams and Charly Pride in the way Hawthorne delivers Amarillo Wind, Arrowhead & Porcupine Claw and the winsome Worthy of the Sea; but all are a lot more contemporary and slightly edgier than either of those Legends would or could write or sing about; with Chuck Hawthorne majestically treading the tightrope that is Country Music these days. Earlier today I read an article about why Country Music radio in the USA is haemorrhaging listeners; and while some of what the journalist said was true …… he also failed to mention that there should be a place on daytime radio for singers like this; especially when he can break a heart in two one minute with Broken Wire then lift you up and make you think deeply about the world we live in with New Lost Generation; but perhaps these are the ‘truths’ they don’t want you to hear? That last song New Lost Generation is by far Chuck Hawthorne’s finest song here, but I’m going for his rendition of his friend Richard Dobson’s ode to Chief Joseph, I Will Fight No More Forever as the RMHQ Favourite Song; because it’s not just intelligent and articulate but a song that will stay with me forever; and also make me hunt down the original album it came from.
Robbie Fulks Country Love Songs (Vinyl Only Release) Bloodshot Records
A Country Music ‘Game Changer’ In So Many Fabulous Ways!
Robbie Fulks is probably ‘taken for granted’ by several generations of Alt, Country fans as he is constantly touring and regularly releasing albums; yet there was a time when what he does so well and so naturally was as rare as hens teeth! But thankfully the home of Insurgent Country have always appreciated what a rare talent he has; and to help celebrate their very own 25th Anniversary they are re-releasing his debut album COUNTRY LOVE SONGS as a 180 gram Vinyl record. It may sound as fresh as a mountain daisy today in 2019, but even I as a Fulks Fan can’t imagine how extraordinary the twisted opening song Every Kinda Music, But Country must have sounded in 1996! Just like all the others here, it’s a love song but one that Fulks tips his ‘knowledgeable cap’, back to the Glory Days of Hank, George and Chet with more than a dash of cheek too . I own 6 Robbie Fulks albums, but never this one; so hearing Barely Human, Tears Only Run One Way and the other ‘live favourite’ The Buck Starts Here for the first time has been as exciting as I’ve hoped for two decades. I can’t work out how old/young Robbie would have been way back then; but what a burgeoning talent he had for not just songwriting and storytelling, but adding a catchy melody too – which was way out of fashion in the 1990’s! After praising him to the hilt, I must also mention two tracks which may not have aged as well as the rest; The Scrapple Song is a comical ode to Pennsylvania’s favourite foodstuff apparantly and the instrumental Pete Way’s Trousers kind of jars with everything either side of it …… but I could be wrong. Man…… what to select for a Favourite Song? The powerhouse album closer Papa Was a Steel Headed Man certainly showcases what a talent Fulks was and still is; while the left of centre tearjerker Barely Human is/was probably the first song in a style which is now synonymous with Robbie Fulks; but I’m closing my eyes and selecting She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died) because, yet again it’s 25 years old it sounds as fresh as a daisy with Fulks taking the baton from George or Hank and sauntering in the direction of Alt. Country, Americana and/or Countrypolitain without a care in the world! I hope someone out there can tell me who the mysterious actress of the story was. I will leave the last word to Robbie himself; and the note he attached to the tape he originally sent to Bloodshot in 1996:-
“13 original country songs with an early 50’s production aesthetic (hot vocals, robust bass, live instrumental tracks) and arrangement, reviving certain types of songs long abandoned by mainstream country music. Likewise in retro spirit, these songs will frequently violate current country songwriting trends which hold as taboo themes of negativism, forceful expression, and points of view uncongenial to the prevailing ideology of fatuous feelgoodism; they will instead reflect a modern sensibility in their emotional graphicness, vigorous iconoclasm, and sense of humor. In composition and presentation the music will honestly reflect the heart and personality of its author/singer, and in its fundamental sincerity will stand resolutely against the poisonous tides of camp.”
A Timely Retrospective of Finely Matured Country Songs (and More)
While simply thrilled at adding this album to my collection; unless there’s a UK & European tour in the offing, I’m not sure what the purpose of a compilation of Karen Jonas’ songs is. I’m not being arsey here; as I’m a bit of a fan ….. already owning and positively reviewing all three of her previous releases; songs from which make up 9 of the 11 songs, with the other two being quite adventurous cover versions. So, let’s take LUCKY, REVISITED at face value and ‘sell it’ and Karen Jonas’ undoubted talents to a new set of fans. The album gets off to a rip-roaring start with Karen advising; “Hang onto your hats Boys!” Before Tim Bray regales us with some 100 mph Chet Atkins flavoured guitar picking and a breathy Karen eventually catching up with a terrific Country AND Western song entitled Ophelia; which owes a lot more to Charlie Daniels than it does the song of a similar name by the Band. This is immediately followed by a cheery rendition of Homesick Blues, which actually sounds like a response to Hank’s original hit. Those two songs set the tone for the Honky-Tonk tunes that lie ahead; Ms Jonas can write her own timeless Country Classics with Country Songs and Money; which would both have been perfect for Patsy Cline or today, any of the Pistol Annies; yet she can also tug on the heartstrings with the more contemporary Lucky, Gospel of The Road and the brittle world weary wisdom of Wasting Time too. On just about any other album Karen’s dramatic interpretation of His Bobness’s It Takes a Lot to Laugh would comfortably been my Favourite Track, as would Butter; just like it was in my review of the album of the same name many years ago; but there’s another song here, which I actually can’t remember but has jumped out at me on every play and is therefore the 2019 Official RMHQ Favourite Song! First released on her debut album in 2014 it appears to have matured in the intervening years like a fine French wine or perhaps more aptly, a quality Tennessee Mash! Now I’ve rediscovered this absolute gem of a song; perhaps now I know why Karen had in mind when she decided to compile this cracking ‘Best Of’.
The 40 Acre Mule Goodnight & Good Luck State Fair Records
The Pumping Heartbeat and Pure Soul of Modern Rock & Roll!
You know me by now; I’m regularly guilty of ‘judging an album by the cover’ ……. but why; not? It’s what I, and probably you did as kids back in the olden golden days of wasting whole Saturday afternoons back in our teenage days. So, with that thought in mind, I’m 99.99% sure I’d have asked Graham Herdman if I could hear a couple of tracks from this album had I found it in the racks of his record stall in Stanley Market. It wouldn’t have took even two minutes of the Gritty Blues of opening track You’d Better Run for me to be counting my pocket money to swap for this album of earthly delights. What’s not to like? As they themselves say, 40 Acre Mule ‘blur the lines covering ‘Country, Soul, Blues and Rock & Roll!” Where to start? The Rocking Boogie of 16 Days is as good a place as any; but hey kids ……. that sax solo that opens the sultry Somethin’ Next to Nothin’ will shake the rafters before the band slips and slides into a Bob Seger/Creedence swampy ode to luuurve. The band started up in Dallas only 4 years ago and have been hacking around the back-roads of America ever since, honing their craft until the world was ready for songs like Shake Hands With The Devil, Hat in Hand and the bodacious and funklicious Bathroom Walls. As a man of a ‘certain vintage’ I can bore you with all of the influences that litter this fabulous album; but who cares where this ‘sound’ comes from? It’s where 40 Acre Mule are now that counts, right? In their bio they say “We’ve gone from 10 to 15 friends in a dive bar on a Tuesday to playing full-on festivals without even having an album out,” and I can only presume both scenarios can be adjusted to wow the crowds out front. Choosing a Favourite Song certainly hasn’t been easy, as the full on Rocking and Rolling Josephine was my first selection last week; but now I’m erring towards the lowdown and sexy Be With Me which kinda caught me by surprise the other night; and I like that with an album; when it has the ability to keep throwing up songs that make me ‘think’ as well as make me want to jump around like a loon! So, Be With Me it is. GOODNIGHT & GOOD LUCK is a timeless artifact, owing a lot to bands and singles from the cusp of the late 60’s and early 70’s; but if I was 18 or 19 again today this album would blow my mind and 40 Acre Mule would be my favourite ever band.
Rod Picott Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil. Welding Rod Records
The Heart of Americana Unchained and Intimate
It wasn’t until I read the Press Release that I found out RMHQ Favourite Rod Picott had had some pretty serious health problems, including a ‘heart scare’ last year; but thankfully he’s come through it all with a new spring in his step and more importantly; it’s helped him create this, his latest album. The first thing you will notice is the sparsity of the production; well…… there’s basically no ‘production’ at all, as Rod recorded every song at home and just went with his gut (and newly mended heart) as to when to press ‘record’. There’s a definite intimacy right from the beginning, as Ghost is everything you would hope and want as a fan; from such a harrowing backstory and yes; it is as brittle and beautiful as anything Picott has ever previously recorded; in my humble opinion. I wish I could tell you that there were surprises here; nope ….. this is just one of America’s finest songwriters doing what he does best; sometimes with his long time friend Slaid Cleaves; and when they combine their talents on Mama’S Boy the result is, as usual quite staggering. This particular tale is about the ‘overtly masculine’ world a young boy finds himself in; and it really does tug at the heartstrings. Even though some the stories here are as grey as they are stark Picott’s warm voice brings Too Much Rain and Bailing totally engrossing for casual listeners and lifelong fans alike. As expected Rod Picott sings about and his first hand stories examine the ‘blue collar/working man’ life better than most out there; and here he takes a couple of left turns that even by his high standards are quite staggering. I’m particularly thinking about the lament John Wallace; A 38 Special and a Hermes Purse and Spartan Hotel with it’s simple guitar and harmonica arrangement, which lesser reviewers will say sounds like Brucie circa NEBRASKA, but Rod was doing this years before Springsteen picked up an acoustic guitar; and that long apprenticeship pays off in diamonds here. It’s particularly odd to hear Rod Picott’s voice without any technological wizardry behind it after all these years; and it’s fair to say A Guilty Man and The Folds of Your Dress benefit from this format. Then, of course I have to select a Favourite Song…… and that’s not easy at all; especially as the quality that oozes out of every single track here means each is a contender, but my trusted ears and heart keep coming back to A Beautiful Light, mostly because the combination of wheezy harmonica, strummed acoustic guitar and a voice on the brink of cracking up plus a story means it’s something most of his peers can only ever dream of writing and recording. It’s been a bugbear of mine for many years that far too many singer-songwriters fill their albums with all kinds of ‘bells and whistles’ that can’t or won’t be available ‘in concert’; so Rod has given us the album his talents have threatened us with for many years……. it’s all about the songs kid; and that’s all you get………. and that wonderful voice of course.