The Legends of Tomorrow DON’T GO TO NASHVILLE Self-Release
Old Songs, New Songs and Songs to Stir Your Folk Rocking Heart.
I thought I was finished with reviewing music from 2019 when this EP arrived in the Christmas post and I found myself with a free morning; and nothing to do. While I thought I had my ‘finger on the pulse’ of Northern Irish Roots Music; I’ve not heard of Colin Harper nor his friends aka The Legends of Tomorrow; but trusted the source PR Company so give this EP a listen. Without it being a ‘spoiler’ in any way, all 5 songs here are very, very different in style, content and even musical genre not least because each is sung by a different singer ; Mickey Rafferty (The Minnows), Ciaran Gribbin (Leya/INXS/solo artist), Paul Casey (solo artist), Janet Henry (solo artist) and Lyndsay Crothers (Wookalily); but ……. that’s no hardship at all when you give them a chance to breathe. The title track Don’t Go To Nashville is a right ole ‘piss n vinegar’ America song about the current trend of British songwriters rocking up in Nashville and spending their Summer Holidays (and savings) to join up with locals to write ‘the next big thing’. It’s a very cleverly constructed song with a sharply observed story; although there just may be a hint of jealousy in the off beat! I actually agree with the sentiment; because apart from or two specific songwriters in the RMHQ ‘Circle’ who have history with this source and indeed actual success; I receive numerous Press Releases from acts stating that they have spent time in Nashville writing songs with people I have; and never will have heard of; sorry but it just doesn’t impress; unless the songs are actual zingers; and they invariably aren’t. This is followed by a melodic Indie Rocker in the mould of Icicle Works or The The, called When It’s Gone which touches on the changes; both physical and emotional that surround us every day; especially the iconic buildings that we grew up with that are disappearing and being replaced with bland 21st structures. Next up, Liberation is the type of 1970’s Folk Rocker that I used to sit listening to with my massive headphones clutched tightly to my ears as I tried to unravel the meaning of life; and I never found them, but that doesn’t stop this delightful tune with delicious harmonies being something that I can recommend wholeheartedly to you. I feel guilty about not making the final song Greta Thunberg At The End of Time my Favourite Song; as it’s very much a ‘song of our times’ and Lyndsay Crother’s vocal performance is spellbinding as she battles, like the young Swede with a cacophony that builds around her. But; my Favourite Song here, People On The Highway is actually a Bert Jansch song that Harper and friends have dusted down and lovingly tidied up by adding a gorgeous modern Folk Rock tune featuring some inspirational violin playing from Martin Hayes too; and Janet Henry sings her heart out like a siren on the rocky cliffs beckoning the casual listener in with her soft yet dangerous charms. All five of these beautifully constructed songs, that straddle Americana and British Folk Rock with consummate ease, are a lovely if angsty antidote to all of the false bonhomie and political nonsense surrounding me and indeed you at the moment. RMHQ Recommends.
DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show are no more ….. all hail Lawrence County their new moniker! We’ve been fans of and friends with this ensemble from the Bagthorpe Delta of Nottinghamshire for quite a few years; and love their ‘special’ take on Roots and especially Americana Music….. Fiddles, banjos, raggedy choruses & accordions …. What’s not to like? We carelessly missed out on the last single; THIS IS THE END OF IT ALL which was released to coincide with the recent (heartbreaking) General Election because of work and family commitments; but we is bang on the money for this one …… BYE BYE AMERICAE which is also from the forthcoming album ‘The Frailty Of Humans’ (Released March 2020). Released just before Christmas 2019 to ‘celebrate’ the impeachment of the 45th President of the United States,, Donald John Trump.
Swamp Dogg SLEEPING WITHOUT YOU IS A DRAGG Joyful Noise Recordings/ Pioneer Works Press
Season’s Greetings one and all; I know I said that I had finished with reviewing for 2019; and I have …….. sort of. In among a sackful of other singles and pre-Christmas albums that Santa the Postie keeps delivering; and I tr to ignore…… this little gem arrived at the weekend and it has spun my head 360 degrees. I’ve loosely been aware of Swamp Dogg aka Jerry Williams, Jr. for a while now; but don’t think I’ve actually a note from him until now. In readiness for the new albumSorry You Couldn’t Make It, out March 6th, 2020, this is the first single “Sleeping Without You Is A Dragg” featuring piano by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and backing vocals by Jenny Lewis and Channy Leaneagh (Poliça) and I loves it!
The Gothic Cowboy (aka Melvin Litton) BETWEEN THE WARS Self-Released
The Rustic Heartworn Highway is Re-Opened
This album arrived after its release date, which normally means it doesn’t even get a play; but …….. there was ‘something’ about the guys name ‘The Gothic Cowboy’ and the sepia tinged CD cover that made me pick it up a couple of times last week; and again on Sunday morning; which was when I weakened. PHWOAR! Now this is going to be a bit of a brave statement; I was totally engrossed straight from opening track Border Blues, a ‘song of our times’ and ……… in …. deep breath ….. sung in the vein of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Everything from Litton’s weary and grizzled voice through the rusty yet sharp lyrics and story and coming out with a minimal production that makes every note and word as clear as a mountain stream. There’s a lot to get through here; as it’s a Double Album …… 26 tracks in all; and there isn’t much light to balance the shade of the dark and very dark tales; but if you wanted Pop Music you wouldn’t have bought this anyway; would you? You can close your eyes and press ‘random’ to find a killer song; Summer Days are Long, with Dan Hermreck’s mandolin and Til Willis’s mournful harmonica complimenting Litton’s tale of constant sorrow; or it may be Cold Ohio City; a ‘talking Blues’ that genuinely will leave you spellbound; and if it’s Caspion & The White Buffalo you will find yourself leaning in towards the speakers so as not to miss a single word of this harrowing historical anecdote set to music. Just like the songs of Townes and Guy, there’s a real rustic beauty to Yellow Rose Motel and Marijuana Fields; the likes of which most of us never expected to hear again. …….. and that’s only the first album! I normally expect Double Albums to be retrospectives or Live Recordings; but as far as I can ascertain these are songs that Melvin Litton has had on the back-burner during the 20 years of his previous career in the Border Band and this has been his first opportunity to dust them off and let the world hear them in all their glory. The second album opens with the fabulously titled Creek-Bank Ghetto Boys; which if nothing else would make a great t-shirt; but Hell …… it’s powerful Country-Folk song that just may turn your world upside down! Quite often I receive albums of this ilk where the performer is trying too hard to sound like Van Zandt or even early Dylan; but Melvin Litton just sounds like himself which just happens to sound parallel to what those greats sounded like; back in the day. I guess Litton plays a lot of Folk Festivals; but to me intimate songs like The Devil’s Daughter, Sunday Morning and especially Indian Land will be best suited to a small club where the audience are packed in and can hear and appreciate every chord change, let alone these exquisite stories. As I say this is a Double Album made up of 13 songs on each platter; but Litton has a lot to say; and isn’t afraid to let the tape keep rolling, which gives us a couple of opuses too; with Murder of Bob Rose coming in at nigh on ten minutes, and Montana Bound at seven and a half; but if you get that far you will appreciate that these songs need that length to allow the stories to breathe and resonate too. Gosh; this has been a long (and thoroughly enjoyable) couple of days; but selecting a Favourite Song is nigh on impossible. There’s not a single commercial, catchy tune here …… this is Folk Music at it’s finest; but I suppose Holly ‘n the Drifter or Yellow Rose Hotel from album #1 and Help Me Crossover from #2 are all songs I can point you towards; with Yellow Rose Motel probably shading it as a song I’ve come back to to play on it’s own; so that song is officially the RMHQ Favourite Song on this wonderful Double Album of songs and music that I genuinely never expected to like half as much as I have.
It’s no surprise to all of our readers, occasional and regular, that 2019 has been another fantastic year for the music we love; and my personal Top 25 certainly proves that. You’ve already seen the RMHQ Readers Top 25 and now here’s my own choices …….. as eclectic as ever and based solely on the excitement, fascination and especially longevity all of these albums have had on me this year. Coincidentally and much to my frustration, most of these didn’t make it into the Readers Top 25 as most of these didn’t get the publicity they deserved from the artists themselves and their representatives!
25 Gurf Morlix IMPOSSIBLE BLUE 24 Jerry Leger TIME OUT FOR TOMORROW 23 Janiva Magness CHANGE IN THE WEATHER 22 Holy Moly & The Crackers TAKE A BITE 21 JP Soars SOUTHBOUND I-95 20 Vandoliers FOREVER 19 Steel Woods OLD NEWS 18 Sugaray Rayford SOMEBODY SAVE ME 17 Will Kimbrough I LIKE IT DOWN HERE 16 Joy Williams FRONT PORCH 15 Jeb Loy Nichols JUNE IS SHORT 14 Tony Bengtsson WEST ELIZABETH 13 North Mississippi Allstars UP AND ROLLING 12 Screamin’ John & TD Lind MR LITTLE BIG MAN 11 Tullie Brae – REVELATION 10 Dave Rosewood GRAVEL & GOLD 09 Matt Anderson HALFWAY HOME 08 Bobby Rush SITTIN’ ON TOP OF THE WORLD 07 Chuck Mead CLOSE TO HOME 06 Sam Lewis LOVERSITY 05 Jason Ringenberg STAND TALL 04 Jimmie Vaughan BABY PLEASE COME HOME 03 Beth Hart WAR IN MY MIND 02 Jason Hawk Harris LOVE AND THE DARK 01 Stephen Fearing THE UNCONQUERABLE PAST
I’ve mentioned before that we receive albums from a variety of sources; and this one came after Ramon’s ‘team’ contacted a Radio DJ friend of mine; Jack Kidd who liked the album so much he suggested that they contact RMHQ as it might be something we too might like. Jack and I have similar, if eclectic taste when it comes to ‘Blues Music’ and he wasn’t wrong. If you were in a record shop and spotted this CD; you’d be right in thinking that the title ‘said it all’ ……. it does, and in quite a special fashion. Cuban musician Ramon Taranco has lived in Canada for quite a few years now and has invented his own hybrid that combines Cuban Rhythms with Cool Canadian Blues and the world is a better place for it. While the story within opening track Desperate Love is as sad as sad can be; Ramon and his band hit a groove right from the first few notes and even I found myself moving my shoulders in time to the music. Quite contemporary at first listening; but after a couple of plays the searing guitar licks; swashbuckling keyboards and Family Stone influenced bass n drums combine with Taranco’s wonderful voice to stop you in your tracks and demand that you listen. The older I get the more I find myself actually listening to and deciphering the songs themselves; and not letting the tunes wash over me as I did in my youth ……and there are some crackers here. As you’d expect with a Cuban-Blues hybrid; the melodies and actual tunes are always danceable …… that’s a given; but Taranco’s songs Love Survives and Devil Can Blues; although from opposite ends of the spectrum will both be just as effective if just accompanied by a single acoustic guitar; but in this format they are a bit fabulous. As I checked out the album sleeve while listening the first night, I was instantly drawn to Suicide Hotel Boogie …… well; who wouldn’t? Thankfully it’s not the type of story I’d normally associate with the Grunge Bands; this is a lively tale and something of a leftfield love song; with one helluva stomping beat. Another title I was drawn to was The New York Shuffle; which turns out not to be the Graham Parker song after all; but a song driven by a funky-ass bass that evokes memories of Blood Sweat and Tears, Bozz Scaggs and War at their finest. Not for the first nor I’m sure the last time this year; I’m torn between two disparate tracks for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song; the smoky shuffle that is Take Her Dancing is always going to be a contender; but Complicate Blues has really grown on me. Not a conventional melody, as it criss-crosses Jazz, Funk, Blues and I guess Cuban rhythms and the way Taranco sings it, he actually uses his voice as an instrument in its own rite; so after some internal debate ………… COMPLICATE BLUES is my favourite track here; probably. Apparently this is Taranco’s third album; and that maturity comes across in the way each and every song is constructed; all individual but combining to create a wonderful package.
Deborah Crooks The Department of the West Self-Released
Quality Americana With a Dash of Alt. Country Around the Edges.
With so much going on at the moment; this album nearly got lost ……. as I’d misfiled it. Whoops! Thankfully last night I had a spare couple of hours and decided to hunt it down on my laptop …… and there it was in the ‘Unknown Album’ file alongside 13 others ……. sorry guys and girls. Anyhoot; Deborah Crooks is a singer-songwriter from California and is a member of a band called Bay Station; but this is her fourth solo album. That’s all you really need to know, isn’t it? A sorrowful guitar and pedal-steel combo combine on opening track Lit By The Mystery a graceful backing to Ms Crooks’ world weary vocals making the song send a shiver down your back, in the way Lucinda and Margo Timmins did the first time you heard them. I don’t use those two singers as examples lightly; as this album will sit very comfortably alongside both in my collection; and the tragically beautiful Honey and The Other Side could both be mistaken for ‘lost songs’ by either; but you would find yourself doubting your ears; as Deborah’s voice doesn’t exactly sound like either; more ‘tattered velvet’ in texture and expression. There’s an effortless finesse to the way these songs are constructed; and I’m sure there will be minimal lighting when they play the two pertinently observed song about Native American History are sung in concert; What The Land Will Tell You and the title track Department Of The West as both have a delicate melody but a very powerful message that will and should be listened to in silence. I’ve struggled a couple of times here with my descriptions as I don’t want these gorgeous songs to sound ‘preachy’ or ‘worthy’ as that couldn’t be any further from the truth …….. they; and the jaunty River Stones are all what Americana music is all about for me; imaginative, cinematic, informative and last but not least …… entertaining. Let The River Do The Running sits comfortably in both Americana and Alt. Country camps, with its rustic imagery being a metaphor for a struggling relationship; and the band sound as if they’ve been unearthed in a boarded up roadside diner somewhere West of Vegas and dusted off and plugged in; such is their authenticity here and on just about every other other track. There are a couple of songs I’ve already mentioned that could easily be my Favourite Song; as well as the stunning The Other Side, but I’m going for Long Roads as it piqued my attention last night and still sounded stunning this morning; and now I’ve discovered what it’s about ……. phew……….. Deborah Crooks is one subtle songwriter!! I’m not going to spoil the surprise ……. find it yourself and listen as it unravels over several plays ……. then you can thank me. Yet again I was feeling a bit jaded and considering taking a sabbatical over the holidays; but discovering this gem has restored my faith in the Power of Music …… and I’ve now got three more of her albums to discover as well as her other band Bay Station! It’s only Rock n Roll ……. but I love it.
Rev. Freakchild ROAD DOG DHARMA Treated and Released Records
A Totally Bonkers Mix of Outtakes, Radio Interviews and Amazing Cover Versions.
It’s fair to say Reverend Freakchild is ‘left of centre’ with his music; which sort of straddles the Blues, Rock and possibly even the Folk fences with a Zappa like arrogance; and so much so that even I’ve struggled to get my head around his work. So much so; that when I reviewed his Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues album for No Depression I received copious hate mail from his fans! Which brings me to his latest release, a left of Left of Centre mixture of outtakes and live tracks interspersed with snippets of radio interviews from across the US of A. I rather like the way the album starts with someone dialling in the radio station followed by a fragment of The Reverend singing before the dial gets switched again! This is followed by someone called Cornel on WNCD out of Youngstown Ohio;who has a voice so deep, it sounds like a stereotype DJ that turned up on Happy Days or the American Pie albums; interviewing our man. While all of these interviews are at the least, ‘interesting’; I just love the way The Reverend tends to ignore the inane questioning and, like a politician just goes off on his own merry way to get his message across at 100 mph, whether that be an album or local live date. While I’m on the subject; who knew that there really are American DJ’s called Wildman, The Bluesman and even Big D? The first song on the album; Roadtrance starts like any other, then ……. well, it sparks off into half a dozen different directions all at once but based around a psychedelia-Folk riff and wanders off for over 7 minutes. Then, not long afterwards he delivers pretty straight version of JJ Cale’s Call Me The Breeze which made my reconsider my previous thoughts on his oeuvre. Freakchild shows what great taste he has by his choice of covers that are included and when he turns ZZ Top’s Jesus Just Left Chicago into a slow and moody Field Blues, or the straighter than straight, back to raw basics version of Rollin’ and Tumblin’ he more than makes up for the wacky interview tracks that are on offer here too. Obviously not the easiest compilation to select a Favourite Track from; but it’s always going to be a pleasure hearing someone cover Townes’ White Freightliner Blues but to merge it with a folk version of the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows; just might be the mark of a Genius (as his fans referred to him in the green ink mail); and Hippie Bluesman Blues (Alt. Country remix) is another contender; but I’m going to throw caution to the wind and select the Rocktastic All Across America as the RMHQ Favourite Song here as it’s a bit of a keeper; and shows what this Cat can do when he really puts his mind to it. Regardless of whether I ever play this album or not ever again; I love being part of a World where The Reverend Freakchild not only exists but is adored by countless fans all over the world; and that’s exactly the world I want to live in.
A Charmingly Simple Production Masks Some Deeply Personal and Intricate Songs.
I can’t believe that it’s been five full years since Catherine MacLellan released RAVEN …… but it is. Where does the time go? Unlike Coldplay and the likes, Cat hasn’t been sitting on a beach contemplating her navel while sipping Champagne Cocktails in-between releases; nope she’s been as busy as ever celebrating the life and work of her father Gene MacLellan in song and on stage. Who he? Only the man who wrote the legendary Snowbird; among many other slightly less celebrated but still amazing songs. But that ‘break’ and presumably re-discovering her father’s masterworks, has given Ms MacLellan a fresh outlook on her own writing; or that’s how it seems to me on the mysterious COYOTE that opens the album. While a ‘simple’ love lorn Folk song at first hearing; the singer uses the marvelous imagery of the howling coyotes in the hills around her home, for the spirit of love that is missing from her relationship. “Coyote running through the fields Followed by the moon Wild thing you don’t bend or yield It’s me who gives in too soon” There’s a charming simplicity to all 14 of the songs here; but don’t fall into the trap that any of the songs are ‘simple’; Catherine has the ability to create beautiful, yet melancholic stories that paint vivid pictures in your head. Night Crossing; about her travelling on the night ferry from England to Holland is an odd subject; but add a Celtic fiddle and you feel your are standing in her place; and the loneliness she describes in Breath of Wind is heartbreakingly beautiful, in a way that I could never find the words to describe. That’s the thing with songwriters like Catherine; they have the ability to find light when the rest of us only shade; which is a true gift. Sweet By and By and Too Many Hearts are two perfect examples of the Songwriters Craft being used in a way mere mortals can never express. The first is a wonderful story of Cat meeting up with an old friend at a bar she was singing in and the cat n mouse interplay that followed; whereas the latter is a dark slice of Alt. Folk describing the confusion we all feel when a relationship ends. “Too many hearts are broken over fear Too many hearts are broken here my dear So let’s not break these hearts of ours Send them up to the moon and stars.” Like most of her contempories Cat appears to have given up trying to write a commercial song that will become a radio hit (or should that be Spotify?); she writes from the heart; and whatever will be, will be; try listening to the engaging Come Back In or Roll With The Wind to hear a Master Craftswoman at work …… which also brings me to my Favourite track; Emmet’s Song. Even without the aid of a crib sheet, you know this is a deeply personal song about a real person; and so it is. ‘Emmet’ is Cat’s ‘troubled’ teenage nephew who came to live with her. This could have been about me during my own teenage years; or at least two nephews and a niece of my own ….. and I’m sure you will find someone close to you who has lived through the same experiences and, mercifully come out the other side without the aid of an Aunt like Catherine MacLellan. 10/10 all around. I’ve been playing this album amid the hub-bub of the early Holiday season alongside the most spiteful General Election I’ve ever known; and it’s been a perfect antidote to the utter madness that is currently surrounding me. There are as many fragile songs here as there are optimistic and even empowering songs; such is Catherine McClellan’s wonderful way with storytelling; that she can make them flow like life itself.
Mary Chapin Carpenter Our Man Walter Cronkite Thirty Tigers
WOW! Who knew that Mary Chapin Carpenter was back in the recording studio? Not me; that’s for sure! Which made receiving her latest single so exciting last night …… and now, here’s the video. Does life get any better than this?
Mary herself, says about it “The song is less about an iconic newsman and his seminal broadcast of the Apollo moon landing and more about the mysterious passing of time,”