As is oft the case I knew less than nothing about Darlin’ Brando when this album first arrived; but my when my eyes saw the cover artwork I immediately presumed I’d like the contents and might even be angry if I didn’t! Then; had I picked it up in a record shop and asked the assistant to play a track or two (is that still legal in 2020?) then opening tracks When You Don’t Fight and Those Old Demons would certainly have sealed the deal. The former is a relatively traditional and delightful duet between Darlin’ Brando himself and Edith Freni (who just happen to be husband and wife); reminding me more of George and Tammy rather than Gram and Emmylou; which is the default setting these days. Then, Those Old Demons has a hint of Tex Mex in the guitar and pedal-steel; and again the couple sing to and about each other in a way many try but most regularly fail. I’m a few weeks into the album now; and am impressed by the melodies across most every song; which might sound odd but you’d be surprised to know how much Country music we hear that somehow either fudges the melody or ignores it altogether (Country-Jazz anyone?). To best understand where this album is coming from you have to know that Darlin’ Brando aka the least sounding Country Singer Brandon Goldstein was born and raised in Virginia then settled in LA after his college days with a stint in Brooklyn in-between before eventually rocking up in downtown Nashville; which accounts for the lovely laid back West Coast sounds on Weeds & Flowers and Year One; but also the Classic thread that links Crumbling Marriages and the up-tempo Honky Tonkying Last Call and beyond. Last Call, by the way features none other than RMHQ Favourite AJ Croce bashing the piano in the background. While it’s been very easy to like this album; two songs in particular stand out and are vying for my Favourite Song status. The Old Man and the Kid closes the album in a neat and gentle West Coast manner, with Darlin’ Brando somehow managing to sound like a solo CS&N; while the other; Therapy is a modern Honky Tonk Classic. Choosing one of life’s great taboos as a theme for a Country song is really brave; but works beyond even the wildest of imaginations. For a debut album this is well worthy of your attentions; and most certainly leaves several doors open for Goldstein to go through on his new musical adventure.
Defiant, Contemplative and Plenty of Lyrical Interest Too.
Defiant and reflective mix of rootsy styles Mike West’s statement of intent is “Not Country Enough, Not Blues Enough, Not Folk Enough, Too Heavy” and that tongue-in-cheek self-effacing mantra is what guides his musical direction throughout this, his latest release. Vocally, West falls into the Tom Waits/Gill Landry/Sam Baker school of hard-knock gruff vocalists who hew melodies out of the gift they’ve been given – nowhere is this clearer than on the opening title track where strings, fiddle and pedal steel do battle with an urgent vocal. Place, time and situation are important themes on this album and “Am I Free?” with its more stripped back arrangement questions (capitalist) society whereas “Rock Ferry” – West’s home town (on the Wirral in NW England) – “I’m Not Ashamed of where I’m from but I ain’t exactly proud” – describes an austerity hit town – but – “That’s not where I’ll die”. There’s a developed sense of being an outsider too – “What If” in a gruffly soulful manner reminiscent of early Tom Waits explores escape in personal relationships whereas the following track, the more up-tempo harmonica and pedal steel laced “Company I Keep” talks of not fitting in and “no rest for me”. There’s a more plaintive and realistically reflective musical and lyrical tone on “Away I Go” – about leaving things physically and metaphorically behind and on “For Them” West laments for lost youth. The latter displays a Celtic influenced fiddle (Maybe Mike can add “Not Scottish Enough” to his statement of intent!) which also pulls along the mid-album “Father to Son” with its “Don’t do as I’ve done” advice – I’d love to hear this with a fuller rhythm section of bass and drums as it’s got “anthem” written all over it. The album ends in a defiant and contemplative manner with “No Grave” – “When my debts are paid/I don’t need no grave”. The rhythm guitar dominates and drives the album to its philosophically pragmatic conclusion; an album with plenty of musical and lyrical interest – and last but not least; it would be good to hear Mike West explore these songs in a full band live context sooner, rather than later.
Some days selecting albums to play and review can be quite random; but in this case it was because I skimmed the e-mail that the download was attached to as I added the music to my laptop. Several names popped out as if they were in 3D …….. Slaid Cleaves and his friend and guitarist Scrappy Judd Newcomb, Jon Dee Graham, Warren Hood and Betty Soo too; all of which are regulars in one way or another on the RMHQ Hi-Fi ….. so if that’s the company Jenny Reynolds keeps; she’s gotta be worth an hour or two of my time. It’s evident from opening track There Is a Road; that even without those names to pique my interest; Jenny’s beautiful voice would have captured my attention and heart anyway; pearlescent and expressive it adds extra magic to crushingly beautiful song of loss, which lingers in the memory long after it ends. As with much music I listen to; it’s the singers voice which attracts me first …… doesn’t it everyone? Then the songs, stories and melodies evolve and seep into the subconscious the more I play the album; which is why ‘cutting and pasting’ Press Releases shows a great disservice to the artist and the work they put in to create their art. Which is exactly why I made Mrs Magpie, stop what she was doing (another lockdown jigsaw btw) and listen to this album, and she now, too looked incredulous as she heard Dance For Me and Before I Know You’re Gone for the very first time. While not quite an epiphany; the look on her face was the same as when she heard Nanci Griffith and Laura Cantrell for the first time many years ago. Jenny Reynolds songwriting is quite deep at times; almost poetry, yet still accessible; especially if you are feeling quite fragile yourself. The Way We Say Goodbye and the intense title track Any Kind of Angel, with it’s staggering opening stanza, fit that description perfectly well: She left home like a shooting star across the sky in her Daddy’s car Silver light and a thumbnail moon I watched her go, my only girl She met a man and found the world Ran away like lovers do.
In my youth Jenny Reynolds would have been listed as a Singer-Songwriter; which she most certainly is; but there’s so much more to her songs than that simplistic title suggests; as she is a Folk Singer with a Country Heart; listen to The Way You Tease or her melancholic rendition of Hank’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and tell me where you would file her in a collection. There’s no way to describe any of these songs as ‘best’ or better’ but I can filter out two songs to choose a Favourite from. Love and Gasoline is a rather brittle story made exceptional by the intertwining of Jenny’s voice, guitar playing and Mark Halman’s jazz inspired Fender Rhodes playing. The other; and probably the one I’m selecting as my actual Favourite is White Knuckle Love (Didn’t I Know); an imaginative ‘cheating song’ that somehow manages to lives up to the title and is a certainty to feature in many of her peers sets as the years go by. It’s never an easy exercise comparing a new artist to legends of the industry; but sometimes it’s necessary to give new readers/listeners an idea of what to expect, so I have no worries mentioning Nanci and Laura as I did earlier; but there’s more than a sprinkling of Joan Baez and Judy Collins as Jenny Reynolds’ voice caresses every nuance out of every word and note in every song here. One for purists and casual music fans alike.
Powerful, Passionate and Insightful Songs of Break-Up and Redemption.
Nashville based, single mum of two Sarah Jane Nelson is a new name to me and probably to most other music lovers here in the UK. But, don’t let that prevent you from not giving her more than a second glance at this review of her new album. Fact is, Sarah Jane is a revelation and delivers a coherent set of songs that reflect her recent past and how she comes to terms with a broken marriage. However, what unfolds through the songs is a resilient, determined and brave lady who has delved deep into her soul to write and record 11 fine tracks, plus a bonus of an acoustic cover of The Backstreet Boys finest from over 20 years ago. Don’t though expect spite and vitriol. Yes, I can hear pain, humiliation and sadness but it’s more the facing up to reality with a vivid honesty from a fighter determined to rebuild a life. This set of songs project a person who’ll damn-well make sure she bounces back. The opening track “Break our Hearts” has some sweet violin from Andrea Young plus a haunting pedal steel guitar from Smith Curry; behind a vocal duet that could quite easily be Faith Hill and Tim McGraw; it really is that good. “Gone” has what is almost unique on country records these days; a wah-wah guitar inter-twined with pedal steel and banjo. But, let me stress, it works. We then get a mid-tempo feel from a slightly more light-hearted “Dragged” where Sarah Jane tells us “you gotta let go, or you’re gonna get dragged”. I really liked the opening line to “Her or Me” where we are told that “Whiskey is a woman, she says the sweetest things, One sip and you’re ready to dance”. Whilst the guided missile lyrics of “I Only Cry at Night” hit the target, smack bang on the bulls eye. If you were to push me for my favourite track, then the up-tempo fiddle, banjo and bottle-neck guitar of “Reap What You Sow” would probably be my preferred choice. It’s actually the chorus punchline that resonates with me, with Sarah telling us what she really, really thinks of her ex and his new partner: “He’s a bag of dirt and you’re the hoe”. Wow! Getting over the trauma of a marriage that went wrong (which sadly is a facsimile of her experience as a child via her own parents split) is the crystal clear theme throughout. Nevertheless, don’t let that put you off, this is a Country album after all and a damn fine at that. Excellent songs containing lovely melodies and reflective, touching words. The title of the album is blatantly apt, as it is plain for one and all to see that Sarah Jane Nelson is well on the way to being mended. Don’t just take my word for it though, ask our Head of Operations (HOM) in our household, she is a huge fan of the aforementioned group of established female singer-songwriters in my final paragraph, and it is she who has commandeered the album and I strongly believe that I’ll struggle to get it back now. Musically, Sarah Jane has some of Nashville’s finest providing a full and interesting backing that ensures a wide spectrum of instrumentation. The early years she spent in Broadway Shows undoubtedly weren’t wasted and vocally we hear an extremely warm, clear and strong voice. If you like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea or Alison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynne then you can add another name to the list.
The Wooden Faces Flying The Wrong Way Kitchen Disco Records
Indie Americana From the Foothills of Ironopolis and the Tees Delta.
While I was looking at something on You Tube I came across a very bleak but interesting video shot entirely in Mono, with the guy (wearing a black face mask) wandering around a town centre that is clearly in lockdown. ‘The streets are filled with ghosts in black‘ as he seeks out ‘the edge of town’ and I found out it was Dan Donnelly and he was filming in Stockton on Tees, just down the road from me (and RMHQ). Dan is well known in NE music circles and I became even more intrigued when I realised that Blast Studios in Ouseburn, Newcastle were involved in this project. When I was approached about writing a review for the album release of the band in that video (The Wooden Faces) I didn’t hesitate too long especially when I found out (via a Narc Magazine article) that the basic ideas had been devised in Newcastle’s The Tanners Arms. The release was actually produced on both cassette and digital in Blast and anyone purchasing the album gets the said cassette and a digital download too, at no extra cost. A great gimmick but one that would mean nought if the actual tracks weren’t up to the interesting story of the project itself. The trio of Dan, Anth Mills on drums and Goulven Hamel on guitar haven’t let us down with an album showing several influences on a diverse set of tracks. The opener ‘Way To Be Saved’ does what a first track should do – great riffs and a toe tapper to get the listener in the mood and ‘Turn Your Mind’ could easily have come off an album by Tom Petty. On first listen I was expecting ‘Edge of Town’ to be the standout track after the video but I had a number of pleasant surprises to make me change that opinion. For an album recorded in lockdown it would not have been a shock for it to be a bit doom and gloom but I love the jangling guitars on several tracks especially ‘Trust Me’ and ‘Bright Life’ which keeps the listener upbeat at a downbeat time generally. Dan has previously mentioned the influence of REM, The Pixies and Tom Petty on his work, and I suppose all are evident in some tracks but there is enough originality for this to be viewed on its own worth. ‘Flower of Regret’ and ‘Give Your Life Away’ (a nod to Billy Joel?) continue the upbeat feel and the more I listened the more I felt that The Wooden Faces would be a smashing band to see as and when we are ‘released’ to see live music again – this would make a great gig at our local intimate venues; where the crowd are genuinely more interested in the stage and not the bar. Although at this stage, I should mention that the band name comes from their nickname of The Gueule de Bois’ brothers meaning hangover in French (face of wood) so they might dash to the bar post-gig! Genre? To me in would fall into ‘Indie Country’ but I would be open to arguments on that it should just fall into ‘Indie’; but the three closing tracks are all (to me) leaning towards ‘Country’ or at least Americana; and I loved ‘For Loving You’ and ‘One Winged Angel’ to edge out ‘Edge of Town’ for the Favourite Tracks award. At a time when live gigs look to be as far away as ever it’s great to get a little gem like this to listen to – they would definitely finish a set with ‘Blue Moon’ and you will understand that when you hear either the cassette or (more likely) the digital version. I wish the trio the best of luck with their project. Well worth a listen and not just for the novelty of the package – the music is just as good. A Cassette Release (but do we get a pencil winder with it?)
My Darling Clementine COUNTRY DARKNESS Vol II Fretstore Records
Capturing the Humility of Costello and the Heartbreak of Country Quite Perfectly.
When I saw Michael Weston-King promoting this EP on Social Media a couple of weeks ago, I thought “Hang on a wee minute there fella! I haven’t even heard Vol I!!” Now; I appreciate that RMHQ is but a very tiny cog in the wheels that turn the music industry; but I still thought we were or at least should be still on the Christmas Card List, and grumpily stamped my foot, slammed the kitchen door and said so. Bless him; but Michael got a copy (download) to me later the same day 🙂 Was my hissy fit worthwhile? Hell yes! Of course it was ……… My Darling Clementine singing Elvis Costello? Plus, there’s the sublime addition of Sir Steve Nieve too ….. come on, what’s not to like? I agree with Michael in the accompanying doc. opening song Either Side of the Same Town could well be one of Costello’s finest ever songs; there’s the angst of youth in the lyrics; but subtly shrouded in luscious Country melody and when sung as he Duet by Michael and Lou, shivers not just run down your back; but come up the other side too. Simply beautiful …… literally and metaphorically. Things don’t get much cheerier on I Lost You; but again the best Country songs have always been heartbreakers and Michael certainly sings his part as if his heart is in shreds; and Lou sounds like it was her wielding the knife. It’s quite bizarre to hear these adaptations of left of centre Elvis Costello songs taken right out of context; then discover that they were always Country Songs at heart. If I’m totally honest I didn’t recognise a word or note in Different Finger …… why would I? I didn’t know Country Music way back in 1981, although now with the benefit of hindsight the original on Trust actually was a bit Countryish in content; but My Darling Clementine take it back to it’s Louisiana Hayride Roots and beyond. Then, there’s (Still) Too Soon To Know; from one of Elvis’s most underrated albums, BRUTAL YOUTH ………. YIKES! This is nothing at all like the original; and how Michael and Lou ever managed to dig deep to create an almost Southern Gothic opus, I will never know …….. but they do; which makes this my Favourite Song here by a mile. I’m not sure why this two releases are EP’s as combined (I’ve now purchased Vol. I), they would certainly have made one of My Darling Clementine’s best albums; but hey …… they are what they are and they are the perfect accompaniment for feeling very, very sorry for yourself …… which I do on a regular basis.
A couple of years back I booked a cheap round trip to the States and ended up with a delay that merited a 27 hour layover in Philadelphia airport on my return. They had a compilation of Philly soul on heavy rotation 24/7 which gives the place a chilled, summery feel – and everyone there is real nice to you – that’s the same cool groove that I get from this, Nick Corbin; formally of Acid Jazz Groovesters New Street Adventure’s debut effort; the whole feel is of warm days, 70’s Soul and city life. “Sunshine In” and “Don’t Break the Mould” fit this relaxed feel well, but add some carefully chosen dynamics with featured flute and brass instrumentation too. Earlier tracks “Long Long Gone” and “Can We Do It Again” carry signs of Blue Eyed British Soul with some slight but telling musical nods on the former to some Madness rhythms and the latter with Ian Duryesque bass-led funk, which I like a lot. Vocally, Nick Corbin very clearly has a distinct London twang and this is used to best effect on the opener “The Sweetest Escape” and “Never Did Look Like Love” where the juxtaposition of sweeter backing and down to earth vocal creates something greater than the sum of the parts. Lyrically, “Thought it Through” which name-checks Anthony Joshua and “I Need Reminding” with its “I’m one step short of confident” line stands out in terms of lyrical voice – “It’s Alright to Change Your Mind” steals a famous riff and changes its instrument while commenting on the evils of social media and all three go more strongly beyond the pleasant , catchy MOR-ish Style Council type soul of “Gotta Get Back To You” and “Can’t Say Goodbye”. Overall, an album where Nick Corbin is finding his voice – clearly a respectful, knowledgeable fan of Soul Music and able to write a good tune, the highlights for me are where he steps beyond his most obvious influences and things then shift up a gear – the Mod and Scooter crowd will love this album and Corbin’s future could be very bright indeed with the right exposure.
Andrew Cushin WAITING FOR THE RAIN (Single) Virgin
I dread opening my e-mails on a Friday; as they are gradually becoming full of Album and especially Single releases that allow no time for us to listen to the contents with the reverence they deserve ……. we don’t just ‘cut and paste’ like the majority of Internet sites …… but every now and again something really special captures my attention and I’m obliged to scream it’s glories from the RMHQ Rooftops! Which is what happened earlier today when I received the new single from fellow Geordie Boy Andrew Cushin ……… WAITING FOR THE RAIN; a beautifully dark and imaginative song; based on actual events it seems. Even if it hadn’t been for the local connection, Andrew’s expressive and doleful voice coupled to the way he delivers the words with such restrained emotion would have been enough to stop me in my tracks anyways. Prior to releasing his previous single, It’s Gonna Get Better (also attached) he managed to Sell Out our favourite venue The Cluny I, in downtown Newcastle just by ‘word of mouth’ and, of course the judicial use of Social Media …… but hey; that’s still quite some achievement with the paying audience pretty much not knowing what to expect ……. apart from friends and friends of friends waxing lyrical about his intimate gigs around the area. It’s going to be a tough old Year for Andrew, as there’s going to be precious little opportunity to tour or play Festivals; plus there’s already a lot of similar young singer-songwriters around at the moment; but as they say ‘talent will win through’ and Andrew Cushin is certainly talented judging by the two songs here; I’m smitten, and can’t wait to hear the forthcoming album whenever it gets released.
Sons of Southern Ulster Sinners and Lost Souls Hanging Tree
Bloody AngryFour Chords and The Truth, Straight Outta Cavan!
Not for the first time this year I’m starting with ……. PHEW! I wasn’t expecting that! The Sons of Southern Ulster’s 2016 album Foundry Folk Songs was Folky in concept and Poppy in outcome and we liked it a lot. Here, the band again look back on their collective youth in the 1980’s ……. but the whimsy is thrown right out of the window and replaced with teenage angst and anger …… which is what many of us endured; but when those years were spent in Northern Ireland the songs become ever more angry and hopefully cathartic too. Opening track Fear My Scorn owes as much to Stiff Little Fingers and NWA as it does the Dubliners; as it carefully welds 1977 spiky Punk guitar, lo-slung bass and diesel powered drums to a howling poetic annunciation of inner city observations; albeit from a rural area that the Tourist guides somehow miss out. I Live In The Past follows in exactly the same mode; conjuring up memories of the tortured and brutal years many of us endured ‘not getting the girl’ and drowning our sorrows in cheap cider and even cheaper ciggys. Man …… this is the opposite of Easy Listening; but Essential Listening if like me you have consistently unfulfilled your potential. Do these songs still fit in today? Of course they bloody do ……… you don’t even have to look at the TV News to see the disenfranchisement that young people feel today; hanging around aimlessly in any small town centre or even the charming villages of Southern England. These same youngsters are re-living all of our teenage lives that are hiding in the dark recesses of The Fall or Stubby Yellow Fingers and the internal scream of New Day Rises! Country Music thinks it’s the only medium to understand Three Chords and The Truth ……. but while Punksters may not have always managed the third one; they certainly understood and sang about The Truth in a way that still sends a shiver down my back when done well ……. and The Sons in their maturity not just manage a Third Chord but a Fourth and Fifth at times to get their well constructed anger across; especially in For The Birds. Where to go here for a Favourite Song when it’s not really that type of album? Ms McDonagh is a definite highlight that’s for sure; as is Terylene Man (which sounds like Madness without the jaunty beat?) and Shoes of Strong Leather certainly has its merits in this regard as it hit spots other songs have missed in recent years. But, I’m going for the darkest and most personal song here Busaras Boy, with it’s scary angular guitar solos, vocals that sound like spit is flying in all directions as the lyrics are hissed and growled as if the singer is spoiling for a fight …… and he probably is! Surprise Surprise! There’s not many laughs here, but the imagery that is conjured up is quite wonderful at times and as I said earlier; these songs don’t just look back on the tragic hinterland of the late 70’s and early 80’s but the sentiments are just as relevent today across not just the United Kingdom but probably areas in most of the Western Hemisphere too.
Anton and the Colts BOY LIVING FOR THE WEEKEND (Single)
Our chums from North of the Border, Anton & The Colts have been keeping themselves busy during lockdown, not just recording a weird collection of cover songs on the i-phone; but daydreaming about ‘normal life’ in all it’s tattered glory from before and after this solitary confinement ……. which all comes together on this rip-roaring new single! A limited edition (300 copies) blue vinyl 7” single featuring the 200% version and an exclusive b-side will be released later in the year.