Channeling The Spirit of Female Fore-bearers of The Blues.
How does anyone keep up with Rory Block’s recorded output? She’s released so many albums I doubt even she can remember some of them. I’m only 4 albums in; and each is significantly different to the others yet somehow manages to keep the quality really high; this lady doesn’t compromise and certainly doesn’t ‘go through the motions’ like several of her contempories that I could name and shame. PROVE IT ON ME is the second album in a series she’s recording celebrating the work of Female Blues artists that span the generations under the title of ‘Power Women of the Blues’. Opening song He May Be Your Man will make casual listeners sit bolt upright the first time they hear it! It certainly isn’t your average ‘cheating song’ as it’s from the point of view of the ‘other woman’ in a lover’s tryst; and Rory inhabits the character like a second skin; and her beautifully weathered voice and sublime bottleneck guitar playing combine for an extraordinary three minutes. That song is credited to one Helen Humes; who like the majority of other artistes that Rory is ‘celebrating’ here; is a new name to me. But that’s the whole point I guess; because I’m now legally bound to dig deep and research the originals. While this is Acoustic Blues; Rory still manages to dabble in several different genres; with Rosetta Howard’s Your a Viper is a century old tune extolling the virtues ‘smoking a spliff’ but doesn’t sound dated at all; and two songs later there’s the beautiful Gospel song, I Shall Wear a Crown which in turn is followed by Rory’s own dark and deeply personal Eagles; and fits in quite perfectly with the historical songs either side of it. I only recognise two names here; ‘Ma’ Rainey and the indubitable Memphis Minnie with Ma’s Prove It On Me being the title track for a very good reason; it’s heartbreaking and meaningful in equal measures; while Rory takes Memphis Minnie’s In My Girlish Days down a few notches until it becomes a powerful lament accompanied by some awesome slide playing too. I adore the metaphorical It’s Red Hot; and for a song first heard in 1928; it could easily be a ramped and vamped up and sung on the Chitlin’ Circuit by someone like Miss Jody or Sheba Potts Wright; but Rory Block strips it right back to sinew and bones without losing an ounce of nuance. I was very tempted to make Motherless Child my Favourite Song; partly because it’s wonderful; but mostly because I recognised it; although not in this very brittle format. But there’s another song here that sort of sums up the need for Rory Block to bring these songs back to the world in 2020. I’ve never heard of Lottie Kimbrough before hearing Rory summoning up her spirit in Wayward Girl Blues; which magnificently combines a sad Folk Tale with a slow Gospellish melody built around some of the finest acoustic guitar playing you may hear this year. So; Wayward Girl is my Favourite Song here. I’ve loved every minute of this album; but find it very sad that without Rory Block bringing them back to life; these songs would just be sitting around gathering dust; whereas plenty of very average Male artists from the same generation; who appropriated many of ‘their songs’ are lauded today by musicians and journalists alike.
The 81s 2 THINGS and 118 OTHERS Independent Self-Released
Middle-Aged Kicks, So Hard To Beat!
Now that the World is really going to Hell in a handcart, RMHQ has cranked the office stereo up to 11 and decided that only nasty Rock & Roll will do for our daily soundtrack ……. and it’s fair to say The 81’s fit the bill perfectly well. Basically a collaboration between songwriter and producer Thomas Sterling and Nashville stalwart Mr Timothy Carroll esq. plus a couple of mates. Somehow I missed their first two albums; but have made up for lost time playing the Bejasus out of this one over the last three days! Opening track Michael (End of the Line) builds and builds like a sea fog, with Tim Carroll (metaphorically) cupping the microphone so you don’t miss a word as the searing guitars and pneumatic rhythm section try to blow the speakers behind him. YAY! This is already my kinda Rock & Roll. Bizarrely for Rock of this ilk, the actual songs are to the fore, courtesy of Sterling’s neat production and Carroll’s powerful drawl ……. listen or be damned! She Don’t Want Me and Mind Bender remind me of 1980’s American Post-Punk; just before Grunge kicked in. There’s even a melody fighting through the somewhat dazed and confused haze; as Cameron Carrus uses his bass like it’s a blunt weapon. I don’t think anyone here is fantasising about playing The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury or even Madison Square Garden; this is the type of sneering and sweaty music that is best heard in a dingy club with a light show bought off E-Bay and warm beer sold by the bottle. Every song goes straight for your throat in a way I haven’t heard for years; although The Yayhoos and perhaps The Vandoliers probably come real close recently. I can just about remember what it would feel like for a teenager to hear Four Way Stop or Nuke Laloosh for the very first time ……. you know? Eyes bulging and jaw hanging loose; then pressing ‘repeat’ 17 times in a row, until your Dad shouts “Turn that racket down!” But; that’s not to say Dad’s won’t get this too; especially ones who still wear original Tom Petty or Neil Young t-shirts; especially Is This All You Got and Curb. What to choose as a Favourite Song? Album closer Need To Believe is an obvious contender, and the hairy guitar solo will make your head swivel if you ever hear it on Planet Rock one afternoon; yet I also keep coming back to the brooding Camino de Santiago which coolly sits in the middle of the album and allows you to get your breath back; but with my fingers crossed I’m picking Hostage, for no other reason than it’s a great song wrapped in an even greater melody and backbeat ……. it ROCKS! Back to the t-shirt ‘thing’; I despair when I see geezers my age wearing them featuring the bands they grew up listening to; as in general these people pay whole fortunes to see their heroes (accompanied by sidemen who weren’t even born when the hits were coming) at huge arenas; when bands like The 81’s are playing a bar or club across town for 10% of those crazy ticket prices; and are a damn sight more relevent in every which way. Check out The 81’s ……. they will Rock your socks off.
Kim Richey A LONG WAY BACK, THE SONGS OF GLIMMER Yep Roc
Fresh, Sharp and Imaginative Recreations of 20 Year Old Songs.
Not for the first time recently, I was ‘late to the party’ with Kim Richey, only discovering her via the 2018 album EDGELAND, which was the RMHQ Album of The Year. Shame on me, as only a tiny bit of detective work showed me that she had been writing ‘hit records’ for decades and she herself releasing ‘critically acclaimed’ and Big Label and fairly big selling records since 1995! Hey ho; this brings me to this rather remarkable reworking of the songs on Glimmer, from 1999. Because of my ignorance at not knowing the originals, I will treat this for what it is; a brand new album …….especially as they are now stripped back to the sinew with hardly any backing; although what there is is delivered by producer Doug Lancio, Nielsen Hubbard, Dan Mitchell and Aaron Smith. The mood is set by the starkly plaintive opening track, (Why Don’t You) Come Around which conjures up it’s own weary yet romantic imagery without having to stretch the imagination too far. Who knows what Ms Richey was going through in her private life 20 years ago; but it’s fair to guess that heartbreak was in the air; judging by the harrowing Good At Secrets and The Way It Never Was; both of which cut straight through to the sinew. While these songs are all new to me; I find it fascinating that the songwriter can travel back to this time in her life and blow the dust off; then breathe new life into raw and deeply personal Gravity and So It Goes. There;s something particularly magical in the production on Strength In You, which perfectly matches Kim’s expressive voice with a stifling and passionate backing to create a Heartbreaker of the finest hue. At no stage listening to these re-workings have I had the desire to go back and check out the originals. Why would I, as each and every song here sounds like an almost perfect musical vignette that is almost timeless; most especially Didn’t I which closes the album and perhaps Hello Old Friend too, which sounds like something Linda Ronstadt should have recorded. Now that she’s finally got her head around this album; Mrs. Magpie, as is her won’t, has told me which song is my Favourite Track here; and I actually agree, as Can’t Lose Them All is the type of song that will appeal to listeners in a million different ways, as in many ways it’s a “we’ve all been there” story; with everyone interpreting Kim Richey’s beautiful words into becoming something very personal to themselves; which is a talent very few songwriters have. Personally I’ve fallen in love with this recording; just like I did EDGELAND even though they are not just twenty years apart but a million miles too; but still manage to sit side by heartbreaking side.
Watermelon Slim TRAVELLING MAN Northern Blues Music
100% Proof Authentic Acoustic Country Blues.
Oh Man! What a joy I’ve had here …….. two Live Albums of exceptionally crafted and delivered Country Blues from a Modern Day Legend. That said; I always find it annoying when ‘fans’ of Genres like this stay stuck in the past listening to albums recorded half a century ago; totally ignoring or even remaining in the dark that Musicians are still finding new ways to tell these exotic stories. Born in Boston as William Homans III to a blue-blood family, Watermelon Slim is the epitome of a man who has the Blues in his bones and when he drawls the opening song Blue Freightliner on Disc #1 (recorded at the Blue Door in Oklahoma) and accompanies himself on slide guitar; you instantly know that he’s the Real Deal. The vast majority of what follows are his own observational songs; mostly written in the 70’s and 80’s; but when you hear 300 Miles and Frisco Line you’d swear that they were 100 years old. As is his won’t, Slim embodies the characters in songs like Scalemaster Blues or Truck Driving Songs Never Go Out Of Style making them totally ‘believable’. Obviously he also dips into the Classics too; with the inclusion of Fred McDowell’s Highway 61; which somehow manages to sound like it could have been recorded in a Roadhouse Shack 100 years ago instead of the 21st Century; and while the world may not be desperate to hear another version of Smokestack Lightning; wowza is this a brilliant song; and a million miles away from the Yardbirds version which Slim admits to hearing in 1963, then including it in his own set. Then we jump onto Disc #2 recorded earlier the same year at The Depot, Norman, OK and is every inch just as spellbinding. This disc finds Slim sounding a bit more fiery in his delivery; starting with Let It Be Memphis; which features some sublime bottleneck geetar btw. There’s a ‘Traditional Song’ here that I only know via Joe Bonamassa; and while it’s the same words and arguably melody; Slim’s interpretation of John Henry is nearly 359 degrees away from the one by the Crown Prince; which is why I love the Blues. If you’ve not heard him before Watermelon Slim has a deliciously rich voice, with a slight ‘world weary’ slur, which makes every single song sound genuinely Authentic; with Into The Sunset and Dark Genius being perfect examples of a man singing from deep in the folds of his heart. Choosing a Favourite Song has actually been a bit easier than I first imagined, as one from each disc actually stick out like poppies in cornfield. On Disc #2 it’s The Devil’s Cadillac, which I’d never heard before; and Slim’s introduction is short and succinct; but draws you into the following song like Voodoo Queen would. The other is Northern Blues on Disc #1 and here it’s Slim’s majestic guitar playing that keeps me coming back; although his story touches part of my own in ways I’m not prepared to talk about here. Why Watermelon Slim isn’t a Household Name I will never know; he’s certainly the ‘Real Deal;’ with a big bunch of heartbreaking and heartwarming songs that stand shoulder to shoulder with many Classics that fill all of our collections; plus own backstory is just as interesting as the songs he sings; but I haven’t got the time to go into it here, and I urge you to check him out while you’re listening to this Double Album.
Harry Stafford & The Guitar Shaped Hammers GOTHIC URBAN BLUES Black Lagoon Records
Soundtrack For a Late Night Diner, Far From The Madding Crowd
Manchester has long been a been a musical hub; starting with the Hollies in the 1960’s, then dancing its way through the Hacienda years only to reappear (and arguably peak) with Britpop and Oasis; but ….. The Blues? Apart from football team City; I wouldn’t have ever associated The Blues with Manchester; but beavering away in the city’s shadows is one Harry Stafford, who first crossed my radar as a member of Post-Punksters Inca Babies in the 1980’s and has now re-invented himself. There’s certainly a bit of a Tom Waitsian vibe to opening track, the alt.Love Song She Just Blew Me Away; albeit with harmonies and a vocal performance that doesn’t quite scare the neighbours. There’s dirty guitar, cool late night trumpet and piano playing worthy of the Blue Note Club in NYC; what’s not to like? The scene is now set. In his defence, there is a definite ‘Blues’ feel to much of this record; but to me this is the type of late night Jazz that I dream of stumbling upon; and Stafford delivers it all with not just gusto, but pathos too. The songs themselves are very wordy; articulate even and occasionally bordering on Beat Poetry; but that’s never a bad thing here at RMHQ. I adore Stafford’s uber-confidence on the exceptionally dour and moody Black Rain and Infinite Dust. There’s only a handful of artistes who can carry off something so dark; and Harry is certainly one of them. You can actually feel the bass lines in Sideways Shuffle in your chest; and the trumpet is so sharp it could cut your heartstrings in two; then of curse there are Harry Stafford’s words themselves …….. mind expanding! With so much going on the background, many singers would fall at the first hurdle in their quest to be heard; but courtesy of Ding Archer and Stafford himself’s production it’s only when you listen to the likes of Man in a Bar or Cruel Set of Shades on headphones that you find yourself being immersed in the intricacy of the playing, as Stafford’s distinctively brusque vocals take you on a journey that is normally the reserve of poets. Finding a Favourite Song amidst this basket of earthly delights hasn’t been easy at all; with the melancholy single Painted Ocean being a presumed winner when I first heard it way back in January; and the opening track She Blew Me Away is nigh on perfect in this setting; but now, months later I’m going for the most left of centre song on a very left of centre album; which is the mysterious and poetic Disappearing, which obviously conjures up more comparisons with Tom Waits; but there’s also a hefty dollop of Scott Walker in here too and not just the concept, but the articulate construction may even come from the Thomas Hardy book of poetry; if I’m not mistaken …… but I may be. I’m not sure there’s anything else for me to say; apart from discovering albums like this is the whole raison d’etre for RMHQ existing. You ain’t ever going to hear Harry Stafford on mainstream radio; and as he’s from Up North he’s hardly likely to catch the attention of Jools Holland’s Later TV programme; so it’s left to the likes of me …….. and more importantly YOU! Tell your most open-minded and imaginative friends and they will owe you a huge debt of gratitude.
The Remedy Club TRUE HAND, TRUE HEART Independent Self-Release
A Big Country Sound Straight Outta Nashville via Ireland.
Husband and wife, KJ McEvoy and Aileen Mythen aka The Remedy Club’s last album Lovers, Legends and Lost Causes not just took me by surprise in 2017; but my peers across the printed word world too; as no one had heard of them yet the album was filled to the brim with (Alt.) Country classics from start to finish. Well, here we now have the ‘difficult Second Album’ and ……… #SpoilerAlert …… they don’t make it sound difficult at all; and have captured the Nashville ‘spirit’ that we all love and usually have to fantasise about with ease and grace. I was filled with anticipation as I pressed ‘play’ for the first time and must have looked like a cartoon character as the Indie-Country Sweet Symphony bounced out of the office speakers. Nothing previously prepared me for the combination of McEvoy’s grungy guitar, Aileen’s honeyed voice and a Hammond organ swirling around like a Kilkenny mist …… phew; it’s a stunner. I already knew the title track True Hand, True Heart, which is a veritable Twang Fest; and this one song alone suggests that recording this album in the heart of Nashville was money well spent. While seamlessly flitting between Alt. and Country Remedy Club appear to be well on the way to creating their own distinctive ‘sound’; with the duo sharing vocal duties on songs that best suit their strengths; with Aileen taking lead as the couple stepping tentatively into some kind of George and Tammy territory on Let The Good Times Roll; which is not only a veritable Twang Fest; but features some liquid pedal-steel too. Another thing, which needs to be commented on is the sequencing; something that can often make or break an album; and here it’s amazing; with KJ and Aileen sharing lead duties on the thoughtful I Got You which is followed by Aileen breaking your heart on the ballad Time Waits Won’t Wait For Me; then as you try to get your breath back they crank the tempo skywards with more Indie-Country on I Survived. Now it’s Favourite Song time; phew… this is difficult; do I go for Aileen sounding sultry to KJ’s worldly wise on the deliciously timeless ballad Taste of Gold which closes the album; or the mildly raucous Fire and Gasoline (which I now actually know all the words to the chorus)? Both are well worthy; but I’m going to choose ………. the darkly spirited Reclaim; with Aileen using her voice as nuclear device as the music builds and builds until you expect everything to boil over; but mercifully they all pull back at the brink; leaving you with a sweat on! For a teeny tiny Country, Ireland has produced a staggering amount of World Famous and World Class musicians over the last 100 years or so; and it’s no great stretch of the imagination for Remedy Club to be thought of as Best in Class too.
Lawrence County THE FRAILTY OF HUMANS Self-Release
Americana Meets English Folk-Rock in a Country Tavern.
If ever there was an apt record title for ‘our times’ then, it’s The Frailty of Humans. This album though; was conceived and recorded many moons ago; when Corona was a bottle lager and not the Plague! Lawrence County is the new nom de plume for the magnificent but cumbersome DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show, who still hail from the Bagthorpe Delta on the Nott’s Leicestershire border in Middle England. To some degree, this is a tale of ‘new name’ and ‘new sound’ although the ‘new sound’ is actually a well honed and crafted move on from what they have been doing for several years now. Opening track They’re All There treads a very fine line between 70’s Folk Rock and 00’s Alt. Country; with a punchy beat and an articulate story littered with the band’s trade marked ‘play on words’. Sadly, I can’t remember who’s who in this ensemble and their website and the accompanying flyer doesn’t help; but it’s apparent that the vocals (and harmonies ) are shared around to great effect; especially on the windswept Liquor in The Corn and Lights Go Out; with both sounding like they could and should have been recorded and released by a band from Oklahoma or Colorado; not a bunch of reprobates from the Heart of England. But that’s the joy of Americana music; isn’t it? In many ways it romanticises an America that may not exist in 2020; if it ever really existed at all ….. but the music very much does exist. While not exactly romanticising America; the insightful single Bye Bye Americae is obviously written ‘from the heart’ but obviously from afar; and hopefully natives of that mysterious land across the ocean will hear it and think, ‘that is spot on …… thank you’. If there’s a theme behind the album’s title; ‘The Frailty of Humans’ seems to come across in the hauntingly beautiful The Loner, which must have been written after overdosing on The Freewheeling Bob Dylan and Solid Air by John Martyn; and it’s a similar sensation This is The End of It All; when the tempo builds and builds as the male and female voices intertwine and a shimmering violin soars above a very intense guitar/bass/drums. While there’s plenty of sadness here; in I Don’t Sing Country Anymore awe find a glorious straight up Country song which will have audiences not just tapping their toes; but miming the chorus too. With so much to choose from it’s not been easy to choose a Favourite Song; but there are two that I keep getting drawn back to; the rustic charm of This is How We Do It In This Country `is staggering for a part-time band; and the other, Lights Go Out sounds like tattered velvet, if such a thing was musical. There really, really is a whole lot to like here; with exceptional storytelling alongside the stories themselves; but first and foremost is the way the production allows each instrument and voice to stand apart; while also coming together to create a rather majestic and genre defying musical experience.
The Unthanks DIVERSIONS 5 (Live and Unaccompanied) ?
The Human Voice Has Hardly Ever Sounded Finer.
I can still remember the first time I ever saw The Unthanks. It was at the Evolution Festival in Newcastle and a) it was bloody cold for a Summer’s Day and b) they were having ‘sound problems’; so (and this is a life lesson for many other musicians); the girls did an impromptu Clog Dance, in their Winter’s coats to keep warm while entertaining the crowd! Riverdance has nowt on these lasses. Had they come from anywhere else in the UK I dare say I’d not have listened to another note of their music; as it’s not normally ‘my cup of tea’; but as they are proud flag-bearers for my region; I own a couple of their previous albums; and their version of ‘the Miners Hymn’ Gresford has to be heard to be believed. Which brings me to this Album; which is exactly what it says on the Cover; Becky Unthank, Rachel Unthank and Niopha Keegan singing LIVE and UNACCOMPANIED, recorded over a few nights at various venues across the UK. The recording is so clear you actually hear the girls breathing before gliding into the splendiferous One By One, which in other less talented hands could sound soporific or even maudlin; but The Unthanks capture a particular type of magic that carries on throughout the rest of their songs. Because of the way their voices unnaturally blend together the trio have recorded alongside Folk Rock ensembles, simple piano accompanists and more recently a full on orchestra; but nothing will prepare you for the sheer delights of their voices on the simple constructions of Bread & Roses, Bees or I’m Weary of Lying Alone….. honestly; they are all spine tingling. They also dip back into their Geordie Roots for Geordie Wedding Set; on which the local dialect never sounded prettier; and the Gothic Guard Yer Men Weel too. While this is Traditional English Folk music of the finest hue; the girls are as Contemporary as it’s possible; bringing their very own joie de vivre to Bread and Roses, Farewell Shanty; on which the audience harmonise too; and most noticeably their adaptation of fellow Geordie and eccentric miserabilist Richard Dawson’s epic We Picked Apples in The Graveyard Freshly Mowed; which is very, very special indeed. For my Favourite Track I’m going for Magpie; the Traditional song I remember from my schooldays; brought up to date and becomes something of a Power Ballad that will take your breath away. Never standing still, this release from The Unthanks comes alongside a fabulous film featuring concert highlights, behind the scenes footage, family life and special performances in found spaces, inside and outdoor, during the tour.
Hopefully The Way to Becoming an Overnight Success (After 20 years!)
Now; I make it a rule that I never read someone else’s review of an album before I write mine. It’s part arrogance and part being sensible; as I like to speak about how the music touches and even affects me personally. But, last week young Mr Owens had a ‘Twitter Spat’ with a once respected British publication over their review of this album; and me being me, I had to be nosey and see what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did; but wish I hadn’t. I’m not naming names; but the reviewer in question is obviously a bit of a self-absorbed *knacker! Hey ho ……. onto my prose regarding the charmingly sub-titled Best Of Dean Owens.
The actual title track The Man From Leith opens proceedings in the most personal of ways; as Dean sings a Love Song to and about his father. Powerful stuff indeed; and each line had me thinking of my own dear departed Dad who lived a parallel life to the Man From Leith; albeit as a coal miner and WWII Sailor; but Dean’s articulate words had me thinking of him in a brand new light. Thank you. One of Dean Owens many strengths as a songwriter is the way he can write deeply personal songs like that one and Elvis Was My Brother or more pertinently Baby Fireworks; but make the listener believe the song could have been written about their own life. Without drawing too much attention to that ‘review’ I’ve always loved Dean’s soft yet rich Scottish brogue; which is actually universal and far more suited to his romantic visions of Americana than if he adopted that yucky Pan-American accent so many British acts use for their Country songs. Listen to the beautifully windswept New Mexico or Southern Wind and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you! They; alongside others would lose so much of their subtle patina if our young Scot tried to sound Texan or Oklahoman. I will hold my hands up and admit to being a fan for a few years now; but several of his earlier songs are still brand new to me; and while I want to say his songwriting has ‘obviously’ evolved in the last 20 years; I’m not so sure it has. Okay; the subject matter has obviously matured and he’s become a lot more reflective; but New Mexico comes from 2001 and the first of his gorgeous odes to the fair city of Glasgow; My Town was first released in 2004; yet both sit quite happily alongside songs from 2018’s fabulous Southern Wind album. Obviously choosing a single Favourite Song was never going to be easy; Elvis Was My Brother is simply amazing; and has already won that Award on a previous outing; as did Virginia Street; but being the contrary curmudgeon I am I’m going for something brand new to me; and it still took a while to narrow it down to only three. The gorgeous duet with Katrine Polwart; Strangers Again is quite possibly the finest Scottish Folk song this century; but don’t let that title put you off; if the couple pretended they came from Montana, you’d swear this was 100% Rootsy Americana! Even for a songwriter Dean Owens has a very vivid imagination; and when he puts himself into the role of an inmate The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin you really and truly believe it’s autobiographical; and the tempo the band create is pure Cash too. But; there’s another song from Dean Owen’s back catalogue that tugged on my heartstrings; and it will yours too. I had heard Raining in Glasgow once before; sung live and you could have heard a pin drop as Dean squeezed every ounce of pathos out of it. Here on disc, with a full band behind him; it’s perhaps even more beautiful; as the singer pines for his home town while being many miles away; and in this case the other side of the world, when the seeing and hearing rain bouncing off the slated rooftops would be the finest thing in the world. Yet again; it’s a deeply personal song that will bring memories of our own home towns and villages to the fore of many of us who have had to move away for work or even love. I know it did me. When it came to selecting a single Favourite song from this collection; I found myself getting a bit angry. Why? You may well ask. Well; I’m sure Dean Owens now makes a living from this music business malarkey; but when you sit down and listen intently to this compilation you too, will find yourself wondering why your friends, family and co-workers will spend absolute fortunes travelling 100’s of miles to see the likes of Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith or the latest on the conveyor belt, Lewis Capaldi; while Dean Owens (and scores like him) write and sing songs which are every bit as good; if not better yet they remain invisible to the public at large. Do them a favour come their birthdays and slip a copy of this in with your Clinton’s card. You won’t regret it and they will love you forever.
PS Famed novelist and Bon Viveur Irvine Welsh writes the liner notes in his own inimitable style btw; making a CD or LP purchase much better value than a download.
Carla Olson HAVE HARMONY, WILL TRAVEL 2 Sunset Blvd Records
The Best Downtown L.A FM Radio Show You Never Heard.
‘Duet’ albums seem to have been very popular in the last year or so; with some being better; and certainly more interesting than others. This; from the ever wonderful and multi-talented Carla Olsen falls in to both of those camps; very good and very interesting. As RMHQ didn’t exist in 2013 when Vol 1 was released, I will pretend it doesn’t exist …… I’m good like that. If you’re even slightly undecided as to whether this is for you; opening track finds Stephen McCarthy (Long Ryders etc) taking lead on the swoonlicious Timber (I’m Falling in Love) which will evoke memories of every cool Country song you’ve ever heard; with my Big Brother thinking it was the Everly Brothers! This followed by Timothy B Schmidt regaling us with an inch perfect rendition of A Child’s Claim to Fame; which if nothing else is an opportunity to hear a Dobro Masterclass from one Rusty Young. As Carla herself says on the Press Release; these songs are a homage to the FM radio she adored as a teenager; (for me this would have been a Fantasy Radio show ….. but the UK was way behind LA at that time) and yep; that’s exactly what you kind of get; with Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits) showing us what an underrated singer he always was on Goodbye My Love and ‘Superlungs’ himself, Terry Reid sounding much, much better than the night I saw him play live some years ago; on a grizzled and cracked Scarlet Ribbons; which may come back later when I choose a Favourite Song. There are famous names and Classic songs around every corner; and not always together; with some of the names and songs being new to me; but that’s half the fun …… discovering something new. As a for instance I’d never heard the Country Soul ballad Honest as Daylight before; but just as I was enjoying Carla’s breathy voice, my jaw dropped as I gasped ……. “That’s Percy Sledge!” and it is. Now there’s a combination made in Rock & Roll Heaven. I had a similar reaction with the final track, the dusty and windswept Del Gato; but couldn’t pin point the male voice but knew it was familiar …… and it’s only bloody Gene Clark! I love the way the album bounces between soft ballads and good ole Country Rockers with the greatest of ease; and if you like LA Country that Rocks look no further than the sizzling update of Stephen Stills’ UnoMundo with Ana Gazzola. Now I’m a week into the album it’s even more difficult to select a Favourite Song than it was the first day; when the Terry Reid duet surprised and pleased me so much I thought it was the winner; but subsequently Carla taking lead vocals on After the Storm with Mare Winningham on harmonies has swept me away like a wave at Big Sur; and then again anything with I See Hawks in LA has to be a contender for the Heavyweight Crown at RMHQ and Bossier City is simply splendiferous in every which way; but …… and you may find this hard to believe; there is one other song here that takes my breath away every time I hear it. Honest! Shackles and Chains just knocks me sideways every time I hear it; with Carla (pretending to be Loretta?) alongside Vince Melouney who played geetar on loads of Bee Gees albums; and combines to power through this John Stewart song like Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two on steroids. So; although the competition was stiff that’s where the accolade goes. One of the other good things about this album; is that once you get past playing ‘Spot the Singer’ it actually all falls into place and as Carla hoped; sounds like your favourite Fantasy FM Radio show; but without the annoying DJ gushing hyperbole every few seconds.