Sassy, Sleazy and Even Sensitive Blues Songs for Purists and Clubbers Alike.
Without spoiling any surprises; this disc has been welded in the car stereo for three days now and may remain there until next Saturday! Yer Blues come in many shapes and forms from basic six string Country Blues through to Stadium Fillers that can ‘noodle’ for England; but my favourites are usually Club Bands who create amazing music, best heard in an intimate setting and that’s were this quartet sit very, very comfortably indeed. Opening track Won’t Give It is as tight as a Mash barrel, with singer Kimberley Dill taking no prisoners with both her delivery and powerful message to any possible suitors; you want her ‘love’ then you are gonna have to work for it. This is followed by the title track Alive; with its funky guitar intro and Ms. Dill’s passionate rendition of a personal song about being re-born; which could be a metaphor …… but was actually written by her, after a year of health problems. We hear you, Sister! The guy who supplies all of the awe-inspiring, yet understated guitar Jamie Holdren gets his turn at the mic on See My Baby when he also plays some eye-popping slide cigar-box guitar too! Between them and alongside an industrial strength backing from Kevin Lyons and Eric Guinn; Dill and Holdren tap into the R&B that made Tina and Van the Man famous in the 60’s, with barnstormers like 99 Pounds, Fussin’ and Fightin’ and the sizzling duet Think About You (which actually has some delightful Country undertones to it too). Tucked away in the middle is a real sleazy Blues belter of the highest order; when Kimberley warns ‘her man’ to get his act in order or else ‘the back-door man’ will come a’ knockin’ …… Respect Your Woman, with the blistering harmonica of Eric Hughes duelling with Jamie’s guitar is a synonym for the song itself! I’m sure when they play live Sister Lucille will slip in a few Classic Blues tunes to supplement their own articulate offerings; and here Kimberley gets to give Etta’s W.O.M.A.N a new lease of life with added sassy shimmer and sizzle. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any other of these songs; two songs stand out like diamonds in a coal mine. As I write this the new James Bond theme song is taking all of the headlines; but IMHO they’ve missed a trick; because Kimberley’s sultry Devil’s Eyes, with its Bossa Nova tempo, and Holdren’s sweet Blue Note style guitar offering is worthy of such a soundtrack…. Then, from the opposite end of the musical spectrum is the dark and deeply moving final song, Lost which just about shades it as the RMHQ Favourite Song. This finds Holdren singing from the pits of his heart on a very contemporary song about the broken world we find ourselves in today. Give it a ‘proper listen’ and you will realise that the Blues can still move you in a way no other genre can.
Beth Hart and Kris Barras Duo Sage Gateshead Saturday 15th 2020
I had a bit of a panic on Saturday morning when news reached me that Beth Hart had cancelled her concert the previous night in Glasgow, owing to a heavy cold. It wasn’t until the venue eventually posted a video of the soundcheck that my nerves finally settled and Mrs. Magpie could put her ‘glad rags’ on for a night out. Finally seeing Brit Blues-Rocker Kris Barras was a big draw for me; especially as he was performing as an Acoustic duo tonight; and as a fan of his ‘electric’ albums I was pleasantly surprised at how ‘Americana’ this sound was right from the first song, Heart on My Sleeve. Barras’s worn around the edges voice was just perfect for these re-constructions; giving them an extra pathos; if that’s possible. Sometimes I can find myself looking at my watch during a support slot; but tonight I was aghast when Kris announced his final song after 35 minutes …… I could easily have sat through another hour of his songs stripped back to raw basics. When I saw Beth Hart at this venue a couple of years ago she made a surprise entrance via the right side of the back of the Hal; which is why four other photographers and I congregated at that side; only for her to appear from the opposite corner! It’s still mighty impressive when someone can sing while glad-handing and kissing fans without missing a note; and Beth does this better than most. I won’t bore you with a list of all the songs that were performed tonight; but suffice to say they were all from her four (?) most recent albums, with the emphasis being on ballads and slower Rockers, with a couple of belters slipped in every now and again, as still reeling from the bad cold Beth paced the evening perfectly Of the many songs that stood out in this format; the song “for Joe Bonamassa” Your Guitar was simply beautiful as Beth alternated fierce and delicate piano playing with the greatest of ease. I’ve loved Bang, Bang, Boom, Boom since the very first time I heard it; but never knew Beth wrote it after watching Natural Born Killers ….. fancy that? When this ended she had one of many ‘light-bulb moments’ and ‘suggested to the band’ that they play Tom Waits’ Chocolate Jesus, because it’s ‘naughty’ and boy oh boy; did she make it sound even naughtier than the original. Even when she sang her louder rocky songs, Beth sat on a stool to conserve energy; but it made little difference to the power this woman can pour into a song. It was no surprise that Beth introduced several songs with typically personal stories; none more so than Sister Dear which was about her sister Susan; which begat the bleakly sensitive Sister Heroine for her other sister; which my notes say ‘lump in throat/one of those nights’ ….. and it was. While the song Baby Shot Me Dead is dark and mysterious; Beth’s story about writing it about her 80 year old Mother’s husband who left her for a woman of a similar age was chucklicious to say the least. (He’s back home now). Looking visibly weary, but still with a twinkle in her eye, Beth and her bandmates for a couple of minutes before returning for a rip-roaring Sugar Shack, with her sitting on the edge of the stage; then in keeping with the ‘making it up as we go along’ theme to the set-list; ended the night with sensational version of Etta James’s I’d Rather Go Blind; then …. it was all over. What a night! What a performer! This is why I love Rock and Roll.
Not a name I have come across before, but Odds Lane have been playing live and recording since 2003. Made up of Doug Byrkit and Brian Zielie, they have a blues rock sound with a bit of a cool groove, which you just know is going to sound great in the car. The album kicks off with a great riff and a mid paced rocker Don.t Give it Away then Seven States takes a funky turn; and by the third song – I Ain’t Missing You we are in a more traditional Blues sound, although lyrically, we are in 10cc ( ‘I’m Not In Love‘) territory; “I Ain’t missing you, no matter what my friends say” …….. aye right. Title track Lost And Found finds the storyteller apologising for his behavior with a loved one and wondering why she is still around to answer his calls. A ‘commercial’ even poppy sound with Summer written all over it – not the right feeling looking out my window right now in February; but those balmy nights will be soon with us. Hard Rain opens like a 60’s soul song brought into the modern day. A lovely guitar sound with another chugging riff on the chorus. I am a big fan of slide guitar and Spare Change gives us a big blast of great rocking slide all the way through this strong blues boogie. Another song that will be great in the car; but this one would be great live too. Next up is probably the strangest song on the album. What’s Your Name still has the same sound, but with an unusual time signature, makes it feel like a Jazz song, but the chorus gets us back to the regular sound quickly enough. Really nicely played and I particularly like the vocals on this one. There is a lot going on with these guys, and although it’s a blue rock album through and through, they do cover a lot of other bases too. A Little Too Late has a reggae riff and some great blues fill guitar, all the way through. Reminds me of Robert Cray a little bit. Album closer White Castle Blues sounds like it was written as a ‘set closer’ for the live shows. For me it’s got a real 70’s psychedelic sound with loud guitars and an elongated “bloooo, oooooo” chorus. I can see everyone heading to the burger chain for food after an Odds Lane show! Going back to track 7 on the album and my favourite track. Blood On The Van. A ‘dark’ tail of the trials the band van goes through parked outside the house. Great vocal, some more fantastic slide playing and perfect for those summer nights with the car window down. I imagine another live fave too. This is Odds Lane’s 3rd album and I will definitely be checking out the other two.
*We normally try to get album reviews up as close as possible to their release date; but in this case we will make an exception as Gulf Coast Records is the Legendary Mike Zito’s personal label; and their rosta is rather spectacular …… so we are prepared to play ‘catch up’ and bring you some pretty damn exciting new music.
As regular readers already know, I still put a lot of stock in an album’s cover artwork; ‘pretending’ I’m flicking through the racks of a record store looking for something new and interesting …… would that be true, this album would certainly have stopped me in my tracks. Then as Cummings’ Memphis Soul inspired version of Hold On (I’m Coming) was less than a minute old I would be thrusting my hard earned cash at the shop assistant……. then running hot foot to the car to hear the rest of the album. Okay, we’ve heard most of these songs before and to some extent we’ve heard Cummings style of singing and guitar playing before, but …….. and it’s a big BUT ……. we ain’t ever heard them combined in this funky, kick-ass way ever, ever, EVER! Do What Mama Says, which follows at first sounds like the Rev’d Green fronting Them; but it really doesn’t as Albert blends his Gospel Roots with some mighty fine Juke Joint Blues to give us something very special indeed. Does the world need another version of Red Rooster or My Babe or even Van the Man’s Crazy Love? A week ago I would have just rolled my eyes; but today each of these ‘Classics’ have become shiny Tour de Force’s that will make you forget that they aren’t 21st Century Contemporary grooves. I’ve been a fan of ‘The Blues’ for nearly half a century now; and it amazes me still that the likes of Albert Cummings still have the power to amaze and stun in equal measures; with his staggering guitar playing on the instrumental Call Me Crazy and his ornery Country Blues song It’s All Good making me wonder why I’ve never heard of him before. Over the last week nearly every song here has been a contender at one time or another for the title of Favourite Track (especially Red Rooster); but Queen of Mean somehow manages to outshine all others, with the glorious harmonies, funky beat and Cummings singing as if his life depends on it (and it just might when you listen to the lyrics!) Albert Cummings ticks all of the boxes I have for buying Blues album; and when I played it to my eldest brother we got into a heated discussion of how good and innovative his guitar playing really is, which brings me to the outstanding finale, Me & My Guitar which sees the guitarist shifting gears yet again playing chords from what my Big Brother calls ‘the dirty end’ of the guitar; but no; I’m sticking with my first choice of Favourite Track ….. for now. Ultimately I will leave it to you to decide of course; but if you are a fan of BB King, SRV, Albert Collins or Eric Clapton ……. I’ll take it personally if you don’t fall in love with this album.
Nathaniel Rateliff And It’s Still Alright Stax Records/Concord Music
Putting Plenty of Heartbreaking Soul Into Country Folk.
Straight from the opening acoustic guitar chords on What a Drag, you know this is very, very, very different from Nate Rateliff’s previous albums with the Night Sweats. While there were sad ballads on those albums they sure weren’t nothing like this …….. a deceptively beautiful, thoughtful and haunting song of loss and then hope. I think it’s fair to say ……… Stax Records ain’t ever released an album like this before! And they should be proud of themselves for doing so. Singer-Songwriter’s always write from the heart and generally deliver deeply personal works; and that’s exactly what you get on this album, which shouldn’t have but has still managed to surprise me in every groove and stanza. Rateliff certainly has a distinctive voice; one that still oozes S.O.U.L even in this Country-Folk format; with Expecting To Lose and Mavis both threatening to break into becoming Power Ballad; but Rateliff shows great restraint; holding back from the brink to leave the listener gasping for breath. But the all encompassing beauty of Rateliff’s kind words and deep storytelling shine brightly in Time Stands and You Need Me; with his Folk Roots showing like a ‘Bottle Blonde’ in the third week of the month on All Or Nothing and the tragically beautiful Kissing Our Friends which has been a contender for Favourite Song Status for several days now. Apparently these songs began poring from his pencil in 2017 as a long-term relationship unravelled just as his career began to peak; then a year later his friend and Producer of The Night Sweats albums Richard Swift died; taking Nathaniel into a ‘dark place’ from which he wrote the title track And It’s Still Alright; which is as pertinent a song as you’ll hear on the subject of losing someone close to you; and you know what …….. it will make you smile. Two songs really stand out; the finale the dark and brooding Rush On and the one that quite rightfully takes the RMHQ Accolade of Favourite Song; the absolutely wonderful All or Nothing on which the singer sounds uncannily like Harry Nilsson! As something of a Night Sweats ‘fan and although I was aware of the laid-back Acoustic format this album would take; but it’s still been surprise after surprise as the singer uses his magnificent voice in a manner that has no right to be succesful; and the songs themselves? Boy oh Boy; can he right something touching, eloquent and eminently touching again and again.
Rory Gallagher Check Shirt Wizard – Live in ‘77 Universal Music
Another Spectacular Live Release That Cements His Reputation.
I have been a Rory Gallagher fan since my (sadly now late) best friend excitedly made me listen to a record called On The Boards by Taste in 1970. From that minute onwards I was hooked; as apart from Jimi Hendrix no other guitarist ever turned me on as much, and in the early ‘70’s there was a LOT of strong competition; believe me. I avidly followed Rory’s career with Taste; then after they disbanded snapped up his first eponymous solo album in 1971, then subsequently grabbing his solo albums as soon as they were released. As good as his studio albums are, and I do urge you to check them out, it was Rory’s live shows and many subsequent live albums that forged his reputation as a hard working, imaginative crowd pleasing showstopper. Rory seeming to make it his mission to leave his audiences as worn out and dripping with sweat as he was. I was fortunate to see the Great Man in action countless times when he played the North East of England; so was really looking forward to the release of Check Shirt Wizard as an early Press Release said it was recorded from a variety of shows in Hammersmith, Brighton, Sheffield and my home town Newcastle. I was whisked back 43 years to that halcyon evening as soon as I heard the chants of “Rory! Rory! Rory!” that precedes the first song “Do You Read Me” and the song itself certainly doesn’t disappoint either, rekindling feelings a man my age shouldn’t feel on a school night. It was with some (small) disappointment that only three of the 20 songs feature from that Newcastle City Hall gig, as I’m pretty certain I attended that particular night. But what three great songs they are! “Edged In Blue” and “Country Mile” are from the album Calling Card; the album that the Tour was promoting, plus a blistering performance of “Used To Be“ from (the now Classic) Deuce. By 1977 Rory had added piano/keyboard player Lou Martin to flesh out his usual three piece onslaught. In my opinion this definitely was an improvement to the already excellent set up of Gerry McAvoy on bass and Rod D’eath on drums. One of the other highlights here; for me is a version of “Tattoo’d Lady” that must have lifted the titular Dome off the venue in Brighton. It is 6 minutes of sheer delight as Rory trades mercurial guitar licks with Lou Martin’s equally nifty ivory tinkling. Other songs to ‘listen out for’ are “I Take What I Want” from Sheffield City Hall, “Jack-Knife Beat” with its absolutely backbone tingling guitar work is one of the Hammersmith Odeon songs and of course the classic “Bullfrog Blues” is as wonderful as every other recorded version, again from the Brighton Dome gig. This double CD offering (also available as a triple vinyl LP package) is a fine addition to Rory Gallagher’s already excellent live archive and sits well along side Live In Europe, Irish Tour and Stagestruck documenting another key period in his scintillating career.
Review courtesy John Jobling, (photographer extraordinaire and one time host of the Hawaay 61 Blues-Rock radio show on NE1)
With so much going on inside and around RMHQ since the New Year I very nearly missed this little beauty ……. and the news of the new album in a few weeks time too! Lilly Hiatt is set to release her latest album, Walking Proof on March 27th via New West Records. The 11-song set features guest appearances by Amanda Shires, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Luke Schneider, and Lilly’s father, the legendary singer-songwriter John Hiatt. John’s appearance on “Some Kind Of Drug,” marks the first time the pair have appeared together on one of her records.
Walking Proof is the much-anticipated follow up to Lilly’s breakthrough Trinity Lane, which appeared on many year-end “Best Of” lists and Lilly also received an “Emerging Act of the Year” nomination from the Americana Music Association.
Walking Proof will be available on compact disc, across digital platforms, and vinyl too. A Limited Edition Aqua/Turquoise Vinyl Pressing featuring a Black & White 12 x 12 insert of the cover artwork will be available at Independent Retailers. A strictly limited to 500 colored copies, autographed by Lilly Hiatt, and featuring a Black & White cover artwork insert packaged with a box of colored pencils is available for pre-order now via NEW WEST RECORDS www.NewWestRecords.com
Lilly Hiatt Walking Proof Track Listing:
1. Rae 2. P-Town 3. Little Believer 4. Some Kind of Drug 5. Candy Lunch 6. Walking Proof 7. Drawl 8. Brightest Star 9. Never Play Guitar 10. Move 11. Scream
Sweet Change of Direction for Canada’s Queen of Americana.
Singer-songwriter Lynne Hanson has been hailed as “Canada’s own queen of Americana” which doesn’t fully do her justice. Sure she’s equally adept at folk, country, rock, and blues — all of which are undeniably “Americana” staples, (one day I really need to do an article on just what is Americana, if I can ever figure it out myself) — and her songwriting is improving, even to a point where she seemingly can write satisfyingly about anything, but she’s evolving to a point where if she ever hits the main stream, she’ll be ready. No, she’s not turning into Taylor Swift, as I believe that Hanson has too much grit and dirt floor mixed in with her blood for her tunes to ever go that route. Lynne Hanson? She’s a real deal, paying her dues, playing her songs, on the road and in the studio. On Just Words, her sixth full length studio album, she definitely seems more relaxed, her voice stronger and confident, the songs focused and deeper in meaning. Some of this credit could be due to veteran producer Jim Bryson, who was apparently able to get Hanson out of her “comfort zone” and stretch her artistic wings a bit. Her voice has never been finer, and the ensemble playing here really adds gravitas too. Listen to that compressed electric guitar on several of these songs, adding just the right amount of grit and tension, the snippets of swirling organ, or the mandolin and pedal steel that show up in just the right places. It helps to have an arsenal of fine musicians playing your tunes, and Hanson chooses them wisely and puts them to good use. Opening track “True Blue Moon” is a pleasant pop song, as is “Such a Random Thing,” while “Lollipops and Roses” is a bluesy plea for independence, but we also get darker songs such as “Long Walk Home” which deals with heartbreak and the downward spiral of loneliness. The title track “Just Words” shows how verbal abuse can be just as demoralizing as physical abuse. Hanson takes care in crafting her lyrics and it shows, while her melodies have never been purer. With six albums under her belt, Hanson keeps getting better. Catch her live if you can, she’s currently touring Canada before heading to Europe.
I’ve said it before many times; there is so much ‘good music’ around these days it’s becoming ever more difficult for the likes of me to choose what to write about; and also regional promoters to find slots that will give acts like The Flyin’ A’s the opportunity to strut their stuff on a stage in front of an appreciative (and paying) audience. Which brings me to Texan couple Hilary and Stuart Adamson who describe themselves as “Original Americana with Texas grit”; and while I pretty much of agree with them; be under no other illusion ……. this is really Good Ole ‘Ornery Honky Tonkin’ Country Music at heart! Opening track Going Crazy finds the duo alternating verses and also duetting on the chorus too; with both voices being at opposite ends of the spectrum but combining to create a rather wonderful ‘sound’ and that darn chorus will have you singing along like a teenage girl too. Next up; Hilary takes lead on the delectable Rhyme or Reason which has more than a smidgen of Laurel Canyon in the melody; and that will come back on a few other songs too. Then Stuart enters the fray with his tremoring world weary voice bringing the sad eyed love song She Feels Like Home into tear inducing ‘life’. Imagine a Country ‘Wonderful Tonight’ with rolling acoustic guitar; and you will know what I mean. I listen to a lot of music; and I can honestly say that with Honky Tonkers like Heart Brakes, Nothin’ Can Stop Me Loving You and the powerful Coal Tattoo with it’s fabulously haunting fiddle and sizzling guitars; in the set; Friday night somewhere is going to be a real humdinger! The couple’s storytelling is pure Americana; but for me their strengths lie in their ability to draw every last emotional breath out of a Country Love Song; try listening to the couple trading verses on What’s Wrong With You Loving Me? or the heart trembling Letting Go without welling up. Just like many of their peers; there’s even room here for the quirky and light hearted House For My Dog too, without it spoiling the flow. From the second time I played this album only one song was ever going to be my Favourite Track, as it certainly has the OOH! AAH! WOW! Factor; but one other song, Lungs certainly needs to be ‘mentioned in dispatches’; a Native American drum beat and Celtic guitar are at the heart of this breathless and claustrophobic duet that takes Americana into a whole new stratosphere. The sang that takes the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song is Faith and Gasoline; and straight away the Dobro intro lets you know this is going to be quite special; but how ‘special’ you don’t realise until about halfway through and; like me you will go WOW! Then immediatly stop what you’re doing and go back to the start and then move your head towards the speakers so as not to miss a word from Hilary or a note from Stuart and the band. I don’t want to spoil the surprise; but will drop a hint that …….. remember when you found out what Independence Day was really about? Regardless of which genre The Flyin’ A’s finally find themselves in; take it from me, they are The Real Deal.
Although he’s been touring the world for quite a few years, we only discovered the soulful delights of Sam Lewis two years ago with the release of his LOVERSITY album. On the back of the tour that supported that release; Sam took the opportunity to record a concert in September 2019 at Nashville’s Southern Ground Studios, mixing old songs, new songs and even a couple of unreleased songs for SOLO which is being let out into the wild accompanying a Post-Brexit 2020 UK and European Tour. The first ‘previously unreleased’ song What Does It Mean opens the set in the most beautiful of fashions. Although hailing from America’s South East; Lewis takes the tried and trusted laid back California Sound as his template and you can’t help but metaphorically ‘kick your shoes off and settle back’ for a relaxing hour or so. That said; even though Lewis’s voice is very easy on the ear; his songs certainly ain’t Hippy-Drippy in any shape or form. The second track Southern Greek Tragedy is a razor-sharp observation on the broken families that now blight society; and sadly we will all know a family like the one Sam sings about. A Folk Singer at heart; Sam Lewis neatly straddles that genre with a delightful Country ‘twang’ to several songs; and sings them all with a warm and soulful voice too. While this is the perfect ‘Sunday Morning; coming down’ accompaniment; there’s so much detail in these songs it would be a shame if you didn’t kick back, with the headphones on on a Tuesday night too ……..otherwise you will miss the minutiae in I’m a River, Waiting on You and/or Virginia Avenue, and that would be a huge shame. Someone famous once compared Sam to Townes Van Zandt; which isn’t too misplaced as these songs certainly sound like they would have sat comfortably in Townes’s kitchen; but I think he owes a lot more to Guy Clark or James Taylor in the natural way he delivers his musical time bombs in a deceptively simple way that will take listeners by surprise, sooner or later. You may listen to I’m Coming Home and The Only One 10 or 12 times before Sam’s ‘message’ finally hits you; and when it does it will be a Hallelujah! moment; and they aren’t the only ones that will catch you unawares either. For his long term fans the shiny new songs the Tom Paxton influenced (I’m sure!) Neighbours, The Light and the album closer I Love You will be more than enough to make them cough up the dough to buy this sight unseen; and will be well worth the gamble. I’ve played this now in a couple of settings; mostly in the house, but it also proved delightful company on a car journey to the beautiful Weardale area on a cold and crisp sunny January day, when I walked in the hills for a couple of hours. On that day the stunning 3/4 Time was easily my Favourite Song; but more recently Things Will Never Be The Same has taken on a life of its own as dark machinations and politics have swamped my life; and Sam’s wise words have taken on a whole new meaning to what he thought as he wrote them. Isn’t that one of the reasons we love music so much? While the appreciative applause at the end of each song is left in; none of the songs receive much of an introduction; which is odd for a Live Album; but also makes the album a bit of a keeper as that means the jokes never tire; and the songs get to grow and speak for themselves; which always a good thing.