Quality Canadian Folk Music That Transcends the Generations and Borders.
For some reason the name Jason Romero is familiar to me; but not the more ‘memorable’ Pharis; which is odd as I can’t find either in my extensive music library ……. who knows where or if I’ve come across him before. Which brings me to the second album of majestic Folk Music from the couple. Even without reading it; my highly tunes ears would have guessed that the Romero’s come from Canada; the quaintly named Horsefly in British Columbia where they own a bespoke banjo shop. While this could easily be labelled ‘Americana’ in a record shop; but there is something quintessentially Canadian about the way Pharis sings; I’m no linguist; but Hometown Blues just sounds ‘Canadian’ to me ……. perhaps I should get out more. If you can put my semantics to one side, it’s a gorgeous Folk Song with the couple harmonising like Gram and Emmylou while Pharis takes the lead while Jason does things with his banjo that are still illegal in Alabama! I’m no fan of the banjo, never have been; and in fact once coined the expression #BanjoFatigue; but when played really well it can be a fabulous instrument; and Jason Romero plays his various instruments better than most I’ve ever, ever heard. The key to this album is not just Pharis Romero’s endearingly rich vocals; but her sensitive and captivating songwriting too. When I first played the album last week I wasn’t really ‘in the mood’ for Folk Music; but by the time I’d got to track #4 Right In The Garden I was engrossed. In some ways Pharis reminds me of Joan Baez and Judy Collins, the way she inhabits her stories and occasionally leaves words hanging in the air; especially noticeable on New Day, We All Fall and Kind Girl, which all have a dreamy and timeless feel to them. Even by Nu-Folk standards, BET ON LOVE is very easy on the ear; although Jason’s banjo and guitar playing can be extremely complex at times, with the instrumental New Caledonia being an album highlight; and his own weathered voice takes us into a whole new hemisphere when he sings lead on Roll On My Friend and the endearing love song World Stops Turning too. Just when you think you can’t be surprised anymore, Pharis and Jason come at you like an early morning Spring mist when they harmonise on the charming Old Chatelaine. For a Favourite Song it’s a coin toss between A Bit Old School and the more traditional New Day. Both certainly have their own charm and merits, but when placed side by side show the depth in not just Pharis’s songwriting but the way the couple can comfortably bridge the gap that links their 1960’s New Folk generation with today’s Nu-Folk with ease and grace; so I’m saying it’s a tie. Don’t get pinned down with any particular thing I’ve said here; Pharis and Jason Romero aren’t particularly Old School or Nu-School, nor deeply rooted Canadian in their musical outlook ……… this is an album for Music Lovers of all persuasions that appreciate quality and class in any and every form.
We stumbled on Ebony Buckle quite by accident a year or two back; and loved her last two singles SUSAN and Mermaids. For the uninitiated she’s a London-based singer/songwriter, originally from the tropical seaside town of Townsville, Australia. The only thing you need to know in advance is she has a stunning voice.
Her latest single “Ghost” details the heart-wrenching experience that Ebony and her husband endured during their fight to renew her visa after their marriage. Despite her specific experience, Ghost is a universal song of love, loss, commitment and pain of feeling utterly helpless. “Ghost” was written over Skype between the newly-weds as they were kept apart for nearly two years. It was a time in their lives when normality was turned upside down and they were put in limbo.
Classic Rock is Alive Well and in Very Rude Health
There are a lot of bands around at the moment that have that Classic Rock sound and have a 70’s feel to what they do (Massive Wagons, Rival Sons etc) and a new one (to me) to add to that list is Bad Touch. Thankfully (depending on your point of view) nothing to with The Bloodhound Gang but a classic, 5-piece, 70’s sounding classic rock band coming from the UK. This is the bands fourth album and I will checking out there other work as this a fantastic record. The album kicks off with COME A LITTLE CLOSER , an out and out rocker, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. I GET HIGH is next up, and no it’s not about drugs! It’s a love song that has a real funky edge to it. Back in the day I would have definitely been on the dance floor pulling shapes with my air guitar. A bluesy riff and a Paul Rodgers style moan leads us into another funky rock song. LET GO sums up Bad Touch for me. If you are a fan of The Black Crowes then this song alone will make you love this band. Musically and vocally very similar to the Robinson brothers and in my book that’s a huge plus. There are a couple of ballads on the album too, CAN YOU SAVE ME has the narrator taking a hard look at himself and trying to work out how to improve his life. SEE YOU AGAIN is a very personal song written for one of the band members who lost a family member. The rest of the album swings and rocks in glorious fashion. STRUT will obviously be a live favourite (it does exactly what it says on the tin) and BEFORE I DIE, READ ALL ABOUT IT, and SUN AND THE MOON all have a similar feel to them; good old Mid tempo rockers with great vocals and even greater riffs. The title track KISS THE SKY is probably my favourite track on here. Again a funky rock song with a big chorus and you won’t be able to stop your feet tapping. Does everybody remember the Elton John/Kiki Dee song, I’VE GOT THE MUSIC IN ME? Well congratulation to Bad Touch as I have always disliked that song but this version is great. It really rocks in a way I wouldn’t have ever expected it could – again I could imagine it will go down a storm live. The album closer (on cd, not vinyl) is a little different from the rest of the album. For two and a half minutes we get acoustic balladry before a sudden change of pace and a fantastic guitar solo leading to a very quiet end to the song. The album is chock full of great riffs, great vocal performances and for the most part gets it’s head down and rocks. Highly recommended.
Courtney Marie Andrews IT MUST BE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT Loose Records
This is the third single to be taken from the new album OLD FLOWERS (released July 24th) and Andrews shares, “Old Flowers is about heartbreak. There are a million records and songs about that, but I did not lie when writing these songs. This album is about loving and caring for the person you know you can’t be with. It’s about being afraid to be vulnerable after you’ve been hurt. It’s about a woman who is alone, but okay with that, if it means truth. This was my truth this year—my nine-year relationship ended and I’m a woman alone in the world, but happy to know herself.”
The release of Old Flowers continues a series of breakout years for Andrews following her critically acclaimed 2018 album, May Your Kindness Remain. The album was featured on several year-end lists including Rolling Stone, who called it, “a vital roadmap of grace, forgiveness and compassion during a year when the demand for such virtues has never been higher.” Additionally, NPR Music proclaimed, “a collection of songs, borne from interactions with others, that strives for healing and empathy in the midst of division and discord.”
Keeping The Classic Country Flame Burning Brightly.
I’ve just had a couple of days detox from reviewing; just sitting lazing around reading newspapers, shouting at the TV and eating and drinking far too much for a man of my age and girth. So, this morning I was raring to go …….. but couldn’t think which of a dozen albums due for release later this week that I felt I wanted to immerse myself in for two hours. Then, the little Angel (that looks uncannily like Kylie Minogue) that sits on my left shoulder whispered “Heather Anne Lomax” ….. whose album I missed writing about a month ago; but have thoroughly enjoyed each time I’ve played it. So here we are. Let’s start with the cover ….. it’s certainly eye-catching, with Ms Lomax looking like Reba McEntire dressed as Dolly Parton going out dressed as Elvis ……. just like me; you certainly would pick it up in a record shop! And; do you know what? Straight outta the blocks; Heather Anne Lomax sounds just like that description on the Country Rocking and Rolling All This Time! Currently hitching herself onto the Americana/Alt. Country bandwagon; to these ears Heart Don’t Lie, Crumbs and any song called My Dog are pure damn Classic Country. You know the type the Press tell us ain’t made any more …… well, trust me ……. it is; and Heather Anne Lomax is the latest in a long line of classy acts carrying a torch for the ‘old songs’ while writing and singing contemporary songs in that very same style and with style. Heather Anne has a radiant voice; clear, expressive and carrying just enough wobble and warble to make every ballad sound like she’s fighting back the tears …… and if that ain’t Country, I don’t know what is. Try listening to Prison Cell, Heart Don’t Lie and/or See You Again and then tell me Country Music has to be angry and full of squealing electric guitars …… no sirree Bub; Country music is all about a story added to Three Chords and The Truth ….. all of which Heather Anne Lomax keeps squeezing into three short minutes. For an ‘Americana’ or ‘Alt. Country’ album there’s an awful lot of fiddle, pedal-steel, good ole Twang and heartbreak here; which is the basis for Just Like Yours and Better Look; two completely apposite songs and constructions; but both sure to bring a tear to a glass eye. There’s enough light and shade here to make you think you are witnessing a musical eclipse; and that’s not just a good thing; but a clever trick to pull off on a single Long Player; and in itself that brings me to the three songs I’m undecided about as to which is my Favourite Track. Comfort Me; about losing both her birth Mother and Adoptive one too, and Six Feet Under are two deeply intense acoustic based ballads; the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever heard and really showcases what a sharp imagination Ms Lomax has. The other; *Mr. Popular is an intense three minutes or so that errs towards the darker side of Country, with a swinging Blues beat that brings out the best in Heather Anne’s swinging and soaring vocals, so this is my actual Favourite Song on a fabulous LP. (*NB regardless of what you first think …… this song is not about ME!) Not only does Heather Anne Lomax have a fabulous voice; but she can really write a great song; and emotional songs at that which are multi-layered and contain more twists and turns than a Tory Spin Doctor testing his eyesight!
Exciting Soulful Blues from California’s Central Valley
It’ll not come as ‘news’ to you, but Blues Music comes in many shapes and formats; some appeal to you and me more than others ……. personally I have a penchant for ‘Electric Blues’, preferably with a ‘Rocky and/or Soulful edge’ and that’s exactly what this odd couple deliver ‘in spades’. Big Earl Matthews is a 20 year veteran at the ‘coal face’ of the genre; playing every venue, large and small in and around California; while Ava Grace is but 17 years old and taking her first tentative steps into the murky waters of Rock & Roll; but together they make sweet, sweet music. Opening track finds Ava taking lead on the simmering Scares Me; and her voice shimmers and sparks as a band of nicely matured musicians give her the perfect support such a talented newcomer needs. Big Earl takes over on Next Move which sweetly follows; a ‘song of our times’ taking the role of a man who is in and out of work and drowning his troubles in the dive bars around town; as the band neatly struggle to not takeover and overwhelm the tattered around the edges ‘blue collar’ anthem. This is most definitely a Blues Album; but of the Southern variety that owes as much to the Allman Bros. and Little Feet as it does Muddy and any or all of the Kings. It doesn’t take a musical expert to quickly recognise how travelled and expert the band are here; each member from the duelling guitars of Isaac Lewis and Ricky Galvan through to the power-keg rhythm section of Joshua Broom and Raymond Vazira certainly play their parts to perfection; but it’s the occasional addition of William Melendez’s sax and Ava Grace herself on keyboards that set this apart from a lot of similar records we receive on a weekly basis. That, said Matthews and Grace certainly have exceptional voices in their own rite; which come together most notably on their beautiful rendition of Rhianna’s Love On The Brain …….. which sounds absolutely nothing like the original btw. Apart from that cover version; everything else comes from either or both of the singers; with Ava showing what a prodigious talent she is on her own darkly beautiful Bottles and the more uptempo Pennies; both of which show that this young lady has an articulate intellect that somehow she translates into song …… and what memorable songs they are too. Matthews is no slouch in the songwriting department either; with more than a nod to the Reverend Green on his Sunday Afternoon and boy oh boy; can Ava Grace play that darn piano! The album closer is another Matthews song, and the judicious combination of saxophone and piano at the fore; give the Big Man to croon his way into every Soul that hears him singing from the dark recesses of his broken heart. While a few of these songs would have suited late night radio many years ago; two especially could and should be actual 45 RPM singles, the type of which will get dusted off every couple of years, bringing back ‘memories’. So; which of Ava sizzling and whimpering on Not About a Boy and Big Earl pouring his heart out on When I’m Hungover, which finds him looking back the bottom of a glass on the love that got away? Will it be a coin toss or a tie for Favourite Song status? Let’s go for a tie as both singers sound superb on their own very individual songs. I’m sure from what I’ve heard here Big Earl Matthews and Band will have been a Tour de Force on stage and record over the last 20 years; but the addition of Ava Grace is a game-changer; adding a whole new dimension to an already glorious combination of windswept Californian Blues and Soul.
The Yardbirds Most Blueswailing (1964) Repetoire Records
British R&B at It’s Hottest, Rawest and Most Blueswailing!
Without boring you again; In the Summer of ’69 when I was 11 and about to go to Senior School I ‘discovered’ music and my elder brothers collated a box of 45’s and LP’s from the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Dusty Springfield, The Animals and The Yardbirds, among others that they had grown out of and donated them to me, to further my education. Seriously …….. who’d have thought that the music they deemed old-fashioned 4 or 5 years after release would be a lot more relevent half a century later, than the likes of the Incredible String Band, Quintessence and Family which they had moved onto! The original 5 Live Yardbirds is still one of my favourite albums of all time; and the very best Live Album ever! Here we find another recording from the same time finding the light of day; and finds the band playing around and experimenting with a few of the songs on 5 Live and adding a few newer ones too. First off, the sound quality is exceptional for a Club recording that’s nigh on 60 years old. The Yardbirds come out ‘all guns blazing’ with Someone To Love Me; a song I’m not aux fait with. Clapton’s guitar glides between Jazzy and choppy with infinite ease and I’d forgot what a powerful and crystal clear voice Keith Relf had. The song itself comes to a sudden and surprising end; followed by ‘tuning’ which isn’t explained; so we can only imagine Eric must have broke a string or something. Next up is their version of Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business …… which is still fast, but not quite as breathless as the other and earlier live version. There’s a bit more chat here; with Relf talking about Eric’s new Fender Jazzmaster, the only one in the country and cost him ‘about £300’ at the end of Got Love If You Want It and prior to a gut punching rendition of Smokestack Lightning. In line with all of their contempories at this time, The Yardbirds showed great taste and insight with their choices of songs to cover; all of which would have been brand new to the audience and when introduced just imagine how exotic names like Slim Harpo, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry would have sounded to teenagers from the suburbs and villages around the UK. It was only when I was playing the album today that I heard Good Morning Little Schoolgirl in a ‘new light’ …….. Mrs. Magpie rolled her eyes and sighed; “That hasn’t aged well!” OK by today’s standards it wouldn’t get past the radio-censors but every band singing it in the 1960’s would have still been teenagers themselves; and it’s best not to think too hard about how old Chuck Berry was when he wrote it! As a kid I absolutely loved the way Respectable blends into a frantic Humpty Dumpty, and still do today; as it’s not something I’ve ever heard from anyone else. You will all know the pocket-history of the Yardbirds, with Eric Clapton never sounding finer as he did here (IMHO) but eventually leaving because he felt the band were moving in too much of a Pop Direction and he wanted to be a ‘Blues Player’ which brings me to the finale; a song I’ve never heard from the band before; The Sky Is Crying which is absolutely mind blowing and must have been added at the behest of EC, as it’s a really slow and intense Blues of the finest order and must have screwed with the young audience’s already hormonaly befuddled minds. Which only leaves one more song to mention; a song that has been a cornerstone of my musical life for half a century; and took on a life of it’s own in the mid 70’s when I would make cassettes for the future Mrs. Magpie ……… Got Love If You Want It. To this day I doubt she ever liked the song; but hey …… it was from my heart; and this Diesel powered version with Relf blowing the reeds from his harmonica as Paul Samwell Smith and Jim McArthy providing a backing worthy of the Swampers a decade later; which easily makes this my Favourite Track here. This is neither better nor worse than 5 Live Yardbirds; just a bit different with the band experimenting with arrangements plus adding and subtracting songs from their repertoire; it’s another snapshot in time and should be listened to by any or all guitar bands regardless of their age. I’ve never been sure how kind history has been to The Yardbirds; and even here far too much credence is given to the ‘Featuring Eric Clapton’ than I think is necessary; as this version of the band is British Rhythm and Blues at it’s very best; but blew out like a spark in the wind of change.
We like Annie Dressner a lot here at RMHQ so have been giddy with excitement listening to her latest single PRETEND over the last couple of weeks …….. now it’s your turn.
“I have a new single coming out 29 May called ‘Pretend.’ It is off my upcoming album which was unfortunately delayed because of Coronavirus, etc… but will now be coming out 4 September. I made a ‘Zoom video’ with my friends, including musicians Matthew Caws (Nada Surf), Polly Paulusma, Elizabeth & Jameson, Luke James Williams, Emily Zuzik and comedian and zoom bomber Lance Weiss amongst other interesting and amazing folks. Pretend was written long before Covid, but I did find it relatable for now as there really is a lot of pretending going on here – like pretending this is all normal!” Annie
As I’ve said before RMHQ receives albums from all over the world and all around the music scene; and while our Top 3 reviews for May 2020 are Jason Isbell, Kip Moore and Mr Steve Earle; we actually like nothing better than a handwritten letter accompanying a CD from an artist/band, referencing another review and asking, simply for ‘our time’. That’s were the real gold dust is my friend! The opening salvo from Stonerock’s guitar initially grabbed my attention by the scruff of the neck on opener Too Young To Quit; which quickly becomes a tragically beautiful song about a musician on the brink of ‘giving it all up’ but carrying on one gig and one week at a time, with extra Twang-Guitar free of charge too. It’s a regular occurrence listening to albums like this, wondering why someone who can write songs as lyrically as sharp and astute as That’s The Truth, Gypsy Road and Long Slow Fade still remain relatively anonymous? It’s not as if he has a poor voice; Hell …. it’s the opposite; expressive, warm and even world-weary at times, and the way he constructs the stark melody on Railroad Man is quite staggering for something recorded on a ‘budget’. As someone much wiser and literate, said about him: “Kevin was Americana before the word became a staple in the music lexicon—an amalgamation of Traditional Country and Roots Rock, with the sensibilities and lyricism of a Folk artist.” There’s plenty of glorious pedal-steel and Twang to satisfy the pickiest of Alt. and Country fans throughout; coupled to the heartfelt sensibilities of a Folk Singer, with the title track Twilight Town being a prime example; as is the Honky-Tonkying dancetastic and self-depreciating Life of The Party. While I’ve quickly fallen in love with the uptempo Country songs; I’m dipping into the Folkier end of Stonerock’s songs to choose a Favourite Track. At first it was definitely going to be Black Diamonds, mostly because of the quality of the detail that he includes in passing; but keeps coming back to haunt the listener, so much so you can miss whole verses deciphering the last one …… which just means you have to keep going back to the beginning to listen again. But there’s another song that has crept up on me and ….. well ……. blown my mind! The finale, The Town Where I Was Born is something that any or all from Townes, Steve Earle, Guy Clark or Mary Chapin Carpenter would have been proud to have written; and I can think of a dozen or more current Americana ‘Stars’ who could do a lot worse than include this song on their next album too. It’s everything you could hope to hear from a tightly wrapped yet winsome romantic tale of looking back, to look forward …….. 10/10 Mr. Stonerock. With six previous albums to his name; the first being in 1978; and playing far too many gigs in coffeehouses, bars, community centres and festivals to count; Kevin Stonerock appears to be the epitome of what our humble Reviews website is all about. Try it; I promise …… you’ll like it.
I only read the Press Release after playing the album a couple of times; so to not prejudice my thoughts; and 9 times out of 10 this works perfectly well. Occasionally; and this is one of those times, I’m left to look and feel a fool. Just as I was opening the Press Release I was actually thinking “this kid has something special about him and could go far.” DOH! Kip Moore already has a Double Platinum album to his name; and has a zillion plays on the Spottyfi thing! Any hoot …… I like it and here’s my musings anyway. Opening track Janie Blu took me by surprise; what a voice Moore has! Raspy, expressive and even ‘world weary’ for one so young (and good looking!). The story is actually quite harrowing; as it’s about a man’s love for a deeply troubled girl and err’s more towards East Nashville rather than the sparkly Music Row end. With hindsight it was probably the next song Southpaw, that hooked me into this album as it’s a ‘Cowboy Song’ and a cleverly articulate one at that. In typical Nashville fashion there are often more writers than musicians on the songs; but I’m pleased to see that Moore has had a hand in all but one of the songs here; all of which are interesting, powerful and memorable. There’s a couple of nods to the modern ethos with some nifty electronica in the mix on Fire and Flame; but the rest of the album is made up from proper musicians and a singer with a voice that sounds like his vocal chords are rusting over. Moore and band can delve into the Rocker end of the Country spectrum a couple of times; with She’s Mine and Grow On You certainly being the best of a very good bunch; but It’s the ballads that I tend to like best. The title track Wild World is tragically beautiful and Payin’ Hard, which closes the record shows that Kip Moore has listened carefully to the songs of his forefathers; but is still prepared to go out on a limb with his own take. I’m so far out of touch with Country Music these days it’s frightening ……. I genuinely don’t recognise 70% of the acts at Awards ceremonies; and as for Country Hits Radio in the UK ……. what chart is that designates this tosh as hits? Answers on a postcard please? So it’s been a joy beyond belief to hear Kip Moore singing Sweet Virginia, South as if his very life depended on it …… and all three are intrinsically different, gliding between all out Rockers through to the gently brooding Crazy For You Tonight. Then, there’s the song that made me sigh when I first saw the title on the album cover; but halfway through I did a ‘Yee Haw’ …….. Red, White and Blue American Dream covers many bases; and like a few of my other favourites down the years can and will be interpreted in several ways. I’m pretty sure the Good Ole Boys and Gals will drunkenly belt out the chorus without a care in the world; but listen carefully and you will hear a very clever use of words, melody and context; the type of which we normally associate with Earle and Springsteen! “Dylan went to New York Cash went to Nashville Mark Twain floated on the Mississippi Queen Daddy planted roots in Dixon county Mommas, Momma never left the front porch swing We can climb the Eiffel tower in Paris, Texas Rock Rock City in Tennessee Rollin down the road, you and me Just chasin’ that red white blue jean American dream“
Many will only hear that last line; but dig deeper and there’s a brilliant song in there …….. congratulations all concerned. In some ways this is a brave album for Kip Moore; as it’s got a lot of Alt. bite in the storytelling than you would expect; while the melodies and song constructions are primarily Radio Friendly ……… I hope and pray it’s a huge success and these songs get their due reward on radio and the Awards Ceremonies in 2021.