ROBB JOHNSON & The Irregulars – Pandemic Songs

ROBB JOHNSON & The Irregulars
Pandemic Songs

Irregular Records

A Soundtrack To 2020 Fusing Satire With Razor Sharp Wit.

64 year old Robb Johnson is a prolific singer-songwriter with a lifelong passion for fusing satire with a razor wit.
Indeed, he is often referred to as “one of the last genuinely political songwriters”.
On researching his background I have discovered his preponderance to churn out new songs at a rate well in excess of anyone that I know. Forming his own record label – Irregular Records, to fulfil his staggering output, 40 album since 1985!

Successfully using lyrics to dramatise major historical events on many of his previous albums, Pandemic Songs chronicles the unprecedented impact on humanity during the first half of 2020.
His PR sheet proclaims that all 13 + 1 songs were recorded with a socially distanced, pared down line-up of his current band The Irregulars; John Forrester (Bass & vox); Arvin Johnson (drums & Spanish guitar); Fae Simon (vox).

Saint Mary” kicks off the album and relays the origin of the pandemic, using Mary, a pig sent to market, to emphasise how blasé and uncaring the Bourgeoisie were, including Merchants & Accountants continuing to
dance round and round in rings, see how we live like kings”.
But, Johnson then poignantly highlights that it was the poor, the sick and the old; plus the nameless and homeless who were the first to demise.
The second track “Monday Afternoon in the Paris House” narrates Johnson’s last live gig at one of Brighton’s more bohemian establishments, whilst the following song “422” implores that:
maybe next time you might listen,
maybe next time you might hear,
when that voice comes out of nowhere and whispers in your ear –
This is Nothing”.

As each track unfurls, we are taken through a chronological record of the lockdown, of masks and ventilators, of disinfectant and of standing in the street on a Thursday evening applauding the NHS and even of ‘that’ incredible Cummings’ drive to Durham.
The penultimate track regales dissident observations in Brighton’s splendid mid 19th. Century development; “Palmeira Square” on June 17th. with a telling chorus
somehow you’re still here,
somehow I’m still there,
Halfway through the year, in
Palmeira Square”.
The additional track; “Big Floyd” isn’t Coronavirus related of course, but starkly focuses on the horrid and sickening death, on May 25th 2020; of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Basically, it’s an album that articulates a musical report of what we’ve all been watching on our Televisions for the past 6 months (as well as collectively and individually bungling through as best we can).
In years to come they could play this album in school history lessons to hammer home the dreadful situation and devastating consequences on the entire world in 2020.
Trouble is, for all of us now, as Autumn approaches, the blasted virus is still with us, still affecting the entire globe.
Who knows; this might just be Vol. 1 and Robb Johnson could very well be working on the follow up, Pandemic Songs Vol. 2.

While a young and spirited Billy Bragg initially sprung to mind; half way through listening this morning, I got a spooky, vivid image of David Frost from TWTWTW circa 1963, introducing either Lance Percival or Millicent Martin to sing a similar sort of song to the selection that you find here on Pandemic Songs.

Jack Kidd: “Messin’ with the Kidd” on
Released on 4th. September 2020

Mean Mary ALONE

Mean Mary
Woodrock Records

Mature Collection of Brilliantly Played Folk and Blues Based Songs

Mary James aka Mean Mary, has developed a cult following amongst UK audiences for her virtuoso performances on (mainly) banjo; and other stringed instruments, and this latest release is an excellent reflection of what to expect in the live arena (when it returns).
Recorded at home and featuring just herself on vocals, banjo, guitar and her banjitar the challenge is in maintaining the listener’s interest in such stripped back circumstances.
Fortunately, being a multi-threat musician, Mary has the tools at her disposal to deal with this.
Opener “Come Along” and “Big Tour Bus” both give world-weary and humorous insights into life on the road – on the former, fast picked banjo and bluesy vocals underline the tale of a musician tied to her fate – the latter features dynamically recorded (and played) guitar telling of
another sold out show – of ten”.
The bitter-sweet irony is laced with delicious one liners like
So I guess I’ll drive on now, got to drive on now – till my body is found”. “Nine Pound Banjo” is another road song – an old-time metaphorical blues with stellar picking and gritty, soulful vocals, whereas “Another Barefoot Day” is a different kind of travelogue – James Tayloresque guitar and a vocal that is reminiscent in its phrasing of Tracey Chapman unite beautifully around a narrative of esoteric place names and nature to create a sense of the refuge after the tours and travel.
“What About Today” is a perky gospel carpe diem singalong – “Sparrow Alone” continues the idea of getting things done now but having to do them in the face of the world’s opposition – and these sentiments are developed in the apocalyptic imagery of “I Can Be Brave” which follows, with its confessional finger-picked soul and it’s determined declaration of the title. Things get a bit lighter on “Little Cindy” with its ragtime blues and strong titular character who
… handed him her clothes, she handed him the sheet
Then took him to the laundry room and said,
“Cold wash and high heat”.
“Breathless” reflects on the rush of a hedonistic past – and then living with the consequences and the realisation that
Doing things wrong doesn’t make you free – we were never free”.
Album closer “We Never Hear the Song” is a poetic banjo backed narrative about being attuned to nature and its needs
We listen to the music but we don’t sing along
We listen to the music but we never hear the song”.
From this mature collection of brilliantly played and produced songs “Alone” reaffirms why Mean Mary has proved such a hit on the UK live and, especially the Festival circuit and its mixture of stories, confessions, humour and hope will delight those who’re already in on the secret and draw in the uninitiated.

Review by Nick Barber
Released 18th September 2020


Newcastle Charm (Single)
Wicked Cool

Recently I’ve sort of been dismissing Singles out of hand; pretty much because I get inundated with them each and every Friday and haven’t got the time to listen to them all …….. but today this little gem turned up in my ‘In Box’ and …… well …… I couldn’t not play it, could?
I’ve not heard of Ryan Hamilton before, so was over the moon to find it’s a really catchy, hook laden homage to the ladies of my home town ….. NewcasseLLL!
The other thing that caught my eye was the record label; it’s being released on ‘Wicked Cool’ …… Yep, that’s Miami Steve Van Zandt’s bespoke label …… so, what’s not to like?
Even as I type Mrs Magpie has just walked in the room with a cup of coffee for me, and she was nodding her head even before Ryan crooned the chorus …….
” “Howway man, canny and whey aye,
American girls can’t even say that right,
She’ll hold your hand
Just to break your arm!
A Geordie Girl ………. Newcastle Charm
. ”

This is a pre-cursor to Hamilton’s album, ‘Nowhere To Go But Everywhere’ – out 18 September, and guess who is eagerly awaiting his review copy?

Hamilton will be performing exclusive live sets, to be shown in two of his old haunts in the Toon: Prohibition Cabaret Bar (on Tues 1st Sept) and  Anarchy Brew Co. (on Friday 4 September).
The sets will also be live-streamed on the venue’s Facebook pages. 

Released August 28th 2020

The Allman Betts Band BLESS YOUR HEART

Bless Your Heart

Still Carrying the Torch and Waving the Flag for Southern Rock.

Well; you certainly get what it says on the tin, no more and no less ……. two of the famous surnames from not just Southern Rock but Rock Music itself – Allman and Betts from The Allman Brothers Band.
Hey presto, those two surnames are 100% guaranteed to grab the attention of a whole bunch of Rockers of all ages.
But wait, you actually get an even better deal here, cos it’s 3 for the price of 2.
Yes, the 2nd. generation formed the new 7 piece band back in 2017 and are undoubtedly keeping the faith with Gregg’s son Devon Allman (guitars & vox), Dicky’s son Duane Betts (guitar & vox) plus Berry’s son Berry Duane Oakley (bass & vox) along with 4 others talented musicians who somehow, somewhere clearly have the very same rocking DNA.

Sticking to the winning formula of their debut studio album from 2019’s “Down to the River” the follow up entitled “Bless Your Heart” is another cracking collection of Blues, Soul, Jazz & Rock ensuring the legacy lives on. So, fourteen months later, they went back down to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (where else, I hear you ask) with more confidence and even more ambition. Re-enlisting top producer Matt Ross to repeat his magic, along with further help from singer-songwriter Still Vaughn.

The opener of the 14 tracks “Pale Horse Rider” was one of two tracks released ahead of the album as a teaser and has Devon singing the clear lead vocals and featuring a dual guitar solo highlighting the lonely trek across dry and dusty prairies.
You get a similar western feel with Betts delivering “Ashes of my Lover”. Whilst “Savannah’s Dream” is slightly over 12 minutes long, it certainly recreates an uncanny anthemic bluesy tune, bordering on jazzy even, trademark of the original Allman Brothers iconic sound.
All three Daddies would be rightly proud of this potential classic crowd pleaser.

Of the slower numbers “The Doctors Daughter” stands out, it’s Berry’s song and as well as the lead vocals he also takes over on piano, with Devon happy to cover the Bass duties.
Magnolia Road” was actually the first single released off the album where Devon and Duane share the vocals with the finale building to more terrific slide from the talented Johny Stachela.
Then, you get the Johnny Cash like baritone vocals from Devon on the country sounding “Much Obliged”.

I’m somewhat juberous at elevating any track to my absolute favourite, but if you’re gonna push me then I’d likely vote for “Airboats and Cocaine,” which really rocks, with plenty of glorious slide guitar too.

Sophomore albums are always fraught with doubt and trepidation, but fear not folks, this is a lot more collective than last years effort, it has an additional eclectic spectrum that may have stretched the band, but boy has it been worthwhile.
The albums final track is entitled “Congratulations” and that is precisely what I would say to The ABB, carrying the torch and waving the flag for the sub-genre that was forged by their fathers.
Southern Rock is certainly alive and well.
Bless Their Hearts indeed.

Jack Kidd : “Messin’ with the Kidd” on

Released on 28th. August 2020


Maple Run Band
Black Pasture Music

A Little Bit Country, A Dollop of Americana, Add Some Alt. and a Whole Lotta Harmonies and Love ……….

As regular readers know we try to get reviews out in week preceding release; but that’s not always for a million reasons; and that means some minor gems can get lost …… for which we apologise.
This nearly fell into that category; as it was already out in the wild world when the band sent us a sweet e-mail with a download attached. Although I didn’t really have the time to listen properly last weekend; as other albums from ‘Big Names’ were on my schedule; yet there was ‘something’ that drew me in.
So; on the way home last night I skipped through the album in the car – 30 seconds here; 10 seconds there and …….. the result is the Maple Run Band have been on heavy rotation around RMHQ as I ate breakfast; and I’m now penning my words while looking at the clock before going to work at mid-day!
I haven’t had time to research the band and the Press Release doesn’t say if this is a debut album or not; but that’s no matter …….. what I do know is that Maple Run Band are a quartet from Vermont and they just love Country Music in all its glory from Bluegrass through to Alt. and back again!
You’re Gonna Make Me Cry Again opens like a whirlwind; with Trevor Crist sounding all Travis Tritt as he implores his young lady not to leave him or she will make him cry for the very first time since Johnny Cash died.
Clever, huh? And it’s a proper Honky-Tonk toe tapper too.
Already; I love the way the band use ‘space’ on their songs; allowing the words and, indeed music to fill your senses without over powering you.
For a Country song, Ma Bell has a hefty dose of spice to the maudlin words and slow, waltz like tune. It’s a sad song at heart of course; but Crist and drummer Nicole Valour’s harmonies take you on a ghostly journey worthy of not just Gram and Emmylou but the Handsome Family too.
With that in mind I love the way Maple Run Band can squeeze the hell out of your heart one minute then crank the pace up a song later; which is what happens here as Independence Day, which follows is a rare doozy and is bound to be a 10 minute jam when played live.
When I discover new acts I always imagine what type of venue would suit them best; but with these crazy kids I can picture them playing Catch You Down The Line and Keep On Truckin’ in the bawdiest Roadhouse Bar West of the Mississippi and Engine, Engine #9 in a tent at a Bluegrass Festival, while Queen of Labrador City and You’ve Got a Warrant Out (On My Affection) are surely destined for the Ryman Theatre and if not, perhaps The Sage in Gateshead during #SummerTyne!
But all three (and more) are suitable for all three types of venue.
I’ve been stumped for what to choose as a Favourite Song, as each is as inherently different, which sounding like first generation offspring at the same time ………. the grungy guitars on Borderline have drawn me back a couple of times; as has Lost Bird with its luscious harmonies, shimmering cymbals and haunting cello (from Nelson Caldwell) but I’m being drawn back to Last of The West Kansas Cowboys; because who among us doesn’t like a Cowboy Song?
A tearjerker, more in the mould of Willie Nelson than Toby Kieth, that’s for sure and the harmonies that compliment Crist’s quivering vocals are quite sublime; so Last of The West Kansas Cowboys is the RMHQ Favourite Track (I think).
I’ve had to ‘bump’ a review of an album by a household name in the Blues World to listen to and then write this review; which should tell you something about the quality of songs and playing here; but that’s what the RMHQ is all about; unearthing new music that you may not find elsewhere …… and this is well worth trying; thank me later.

Released 31st July 2020

KAREN JONAS The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams.

Karen Jonas
The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams
(Goldrush Records)

Beautiful and Richly Retailed Vignettes of the Duality of American Life

“The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams” marks Karen Jonas’ first recording with a settled band; and the interplay and development of a clear, strong sound allied to Jonas’ sharp songwriting permeates this release.
“The Last Cowboy (at the Bowling Alley),” which opens with Latin guitar flourishes against a solid danceable back-beat tells of the “King of the Yucca Valley” and – like Paul Le Mat’s John in American Graffiti – he’s found himself left behind by the times …. and the “glory’s gone”.

“Out in Palm Tree Paradise” also deals with good times gone – dynamic stops and starts and tasteful guitar licks punctuate a tale of love been and gone and the mixed feelings that such moments generate.
The tempo picks up a little on “Tuesday” with the richly-detailed tale of dreams thwarted by apathy and the messy detritus of an ordinary life punctuated only by excitement of the odd night out.
“Pink Leather Boots” adopts a more sultry gentle Rockabilly feel and takes the listener out on such a night out where dreams are again not to be – to a strip club where our hero fantasises about his future with the dancing girl in the eponymous “Pink Leather Boots” where the incongruity of the setting and his desires tells us it’s doomed to fail – if anything even happens outside his head.
This difference between reality and expectation is further explored in “Maybe You’d Hear Me Then” where the song’s character – a disillusioned housewife asks:
is this the real world
or is it all just in my head?
set to an arrangement and lyrical that is reminiscent of “The River” era Springsteen.
Musically, “Be Sweet To Me” is another Rockabilly romp, but lyrically the disconnect between what we want and what we get is still there
got your hair slicked back like you’re James Dean
but you care more about your hair than me
we all know how that ends…
“Farmer John” isn’t the old Garage-Rock standard, but a tale of a relationship gone badly wrong.
The prison song bluesy backing and detail of an old dingy kitchen and the insects that live in it add to the sense of menace as the character waits for her partner’s return.
Another relationship gone wrong is on display in “Barely Breathing” and again it’s the falling way of excited first feelings and the revelation of dull reality in contrast that leaves the song’s protagonist “barely breathing” – matters which arise on the penultimate track “Better Days” where Jonas’ Amanda Shires-esque vocal phrasings tell of a deep confessional chat
you know I firebombed my life a long time ago
and asks
why do I need these pills just to be OK”.
The album ends with the gorgeously melodic melancholy of “Don’t Blink Honey” which takes a hard-nosed and realistic view of life
you work your whole damn life and still you never win
it’s a losing game, you know, a losing game”.
The disconnect between the sky-blue Southern sky dreaming and the nature of reality that winds its way through all this album in a highly literate and musical manner creates a riveting anthology of tales and tunes. With mature, developed writing and playing like this, Karen Jonas will soon by moving more towards sparkling dreams and further away from the humdrum reality she paints in sharp focus.
It’s always a good sign when an artist you hadn’t heard of makes you want to explore their back catalogue – and that’s exactly what I need to do now after hearing “The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams”

Review by Nick Barber
Released UK & EU 28th 2020
Buy Don’t Spotify

Stray Cats ROCKED THIS TOWN: From LA to London.

The Stray Cats
Rocked this town: From LA to London
Surfdog Records

A Loud, Frenetic Look, Both Backwards and Forward.

I sometimes ask myself – what is the point of a live album?
To answer that, I usually consider the following:

  1. Is it a good souvenir of a show and a band?
    “Rocked this Town: From LA to London” is most certainly that – recorded across their 40th anniversary tour across a number of dates, it still manages to sound like one show with a well-paced track listing spanning the band’s career from the eponymous opener to the latest “40”.
  2. Does it have the hits?
    Yep – “Rock This Town,” “Runaway Boys,” “Stray Cat Strut” and more are played with gusto and energy and in the case of the latter, considerable swing too.
    Standout album tracks that I wasn’t previously aware of are in there too, such as “Double Talkin’ Baby” which sounds as fresh and sharp as ever. But ………. “(She’s) Sexy and Seventeen” feels a bit problematic to me (and me too Ed!) though; given the fact that the band aren’t anywhere near 17 any more; and this is 2020 after all. ‘Political Correctness Gone Mad’? I hope not; it just sounds ‘wrong’ on a number of levels; and as there really is so many other great tracks here; the world wouldn’t have missed it if it had been left in the dim and distant past. .
  3. Does it sound the same as the records?
    It’s recognisably the Stray Cats; but Brian Setzer’s guitar and vocal attack are a double-edged weapon – both sounding sharp AND gritty.
    The Rocker-Phantom rhythm section are as dependable energetic and driving as ever, with the added adrenaline that a live recording and years of playing gives.
    The mix is loud and lively and the production is tight yet expansive.
  4. Does it have atmosphere?
    In spades – not so much in terms of hearing the audience who are mixed a bit distantly, but in the frenetic rumble-tumble of rhythm and interplay, the shouts of delight and auditory nods and winks between the band and the clear respect between the players.
    They may have gone off and played the field, but together is where the Stray Cats magic happens.
  5. Does it have any extra or unusual tracks?
    The solo “Cannonball Rag” and the fiery “Miserlou” (of which the late Dick Dale would be proud) add variety, as does the “Hot Rod Lincoln”-esque “Gene and Eddie”, a musical and lyrical tribute to Messrs Vincent & Cochran.
    “My One Desire” is also available on the digital and vinyl versions of the release (but not on my review copy!)
  6. Highlights?
    “Blast off” is a raucous delight which sounds better than the studio version; and the scat vocals of “Fishnet Stockings” and syncopated interplay take it into different areas.
    The newer tracks like “Rock It Off” and “Too Hip, Gotta Go” venture at times into an exciting rockabilly Chocolate Watch Band garage-punk hybrid.
  7. Verdict?
    As well as looking back into the past, this live recording looks forward into the future – which suggest there’s still a lot of life in the old Cats yet!

Review by Nick Barber
Released 11th September 2020
Buy Don’t Spotify


Living on Mercy
The Last Music Company

Laid Back, Smooth Grown-Up Music Full of Southern Soul.

After writing so many smash hits in the 1960/70’s you’d be excused for resting on your laurels, simply sitting back and living off the royalties.
But, if your name is Dan Penn and even when you’re 78 years old then that kinda thinking just still doesn’t enter your head.
Never did.
No sirree.
The man has kept pushing forward since Conway Twitty successfully recorded “Is a Bluebird Blue” some sixty years ago. Here is a person who once turned down $40 a week working in a factory with his Dad, in favour of taking a punt with song-writing.

Surprisingly, he has only ever recorded sporadically over the years, just a couple of studio albums since 1973 plus a compilation of unreleased songs from his time at FAME Studios. Then there is one of my favourite live recordings that Dan made with Spooner Oldham, “Moments from the Theatre” from 1999.
Throughout his writing career, he has mostly co-written with some heavy hitters and this is no exception. Not just the aforementioned Spooner Oldham, but Gary Nicholson, Carson Whitsett, Will McFarlane, Bucky Lindsey, Buzz Cason, and the Cate Brothers; all trusted collaborators ensuring no short cuts are taken.

Recording sessions for “Living on Mercy” occurred in both Nashville and Muscle Shoals with the likes of Milton Sledge (drums), Michael Rhodes (bass), Will McFarlane (guitar) and Clayton Ivey (keyboards), along with a full horn section, ensuring the necessary musicianship was also of the highest calibre.
The title track is first off with Penn’s distinctive, Southern Soulful voice delivering a luscious and laid back, mid tempo, love song.
On Spooner Oldham’s “I Do”, he has resurrected one from their back catalogue, originally a demo in the mid 1960’s, it proves well worth the effort to bring it up-to date.
Asking for a “Clean Slate” brings the tempo back to half-pace, imploring for;
Just give me a clean slate
let me wipe away all the mistakes,
all I need is a new start,
to find my way back into your heart”.

Those who know me will confirm that I like to have all the detail, not just of the musicians on each track, but who wrote or co-wrote the songs (OCD, Mmmm… well slightly).
Sadly, neither where available to me for this review.
However, if I had to guess then “I Didn’t Hear it Coming” has all the hall marks of top Texas song-writer Gary Nicholson.
Clayton Ivey brings the keys to the front of the mix on “Down on Music Row” with a typical Penn melody emphasising a hard luck story of his life-long, chosen career.
Edge of Love” tells it like it is and thankfully has a horn section adding some much needed funkiness.

Nevertheless, “Leave it Like You Found It” and a cover of the 1997 Cate Brothers’ “Blue Motel” (which Penn co-wrote) slow things back to what generally constitutes Dan’s distinctive and highly recognisable blue-eyed Soul ballads.
The penultimate track (of 13) explains that “Things Happen
things happen when you least expect it
smooth sailing turns fifty”,
some Deep South philosophy, if you ever needed it.
If pushed then my Favourite Number was “Soul Connection” with Will McFarlane’s sweet guitar fronting the superb up-tempo rhythm section of Sledge & Rhodes.

In summary, it’s smooth, laid back, Southern, grown-up music that exemplifies the simple, soulful approach that Dan Penn has always provided in his wonderful songs.

Released August 28th 2020

(Please Note: the limited edition Vinyl will be available October 23rd.)

Review courtesy:

Jack KiddMessin’ with the Kidd”


Various Artists
Paradiddle Records

Passion Is No Ordinary Word When it Comes To Our Favourite New Yorker.

Me? I’m a newcomer and have only been a fan of Willie Nile for …….. phew …….. 15 years? 16 years?
In the 1980’s he was a stalwart of the CBGB’s ‘scene’ but never had that ‘hit single’ that many of his contempories had; and although he released a couple of ‘critically acclaimed’ albums he never really troubled the chart compilers.
Then; leap forward to the cusp of the 21st Century, and our favourite Noo Yawker; songs and guitar in hand decided to have another go ……….
Which brings us to this wonderful homage to one of my generations best yet generally un-feted songwriters.
What better way to start such a collection than with ‘fan favourite’ Hell Yeah! But; what’s this?
It’s been disseminated slightly; but Emily Duff still manages to stir the emotions with her very own passionate and l.o.u.d rendition, that runs the original a good race.
Some songs that follow are straight ‘covers’ of Willie’s enigmatic and often poignant Rock & Roll songs; but as is my won’t I love the twisted and left of centre versions that simply prove what a great songwriter Willie Nile is.
Kenny White makes Vagabond Moon sound as if it was always meant to be played in a smoky nightclub at two in the morning; and Dan Bern’s New Wavey/Indie turnaround of Life on Bleecker Street is both charming and anthemic in equal measure; then when Leland Sundries strips The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in Washington Square back to some kind of Americana passion play, I was left stunned ……. and the occasional Bo Diddley ‘beat’ does it no harm either.
Obviously there are going to be surprises around every corner; Richard Barone? Gene Casey?
Never heard of ’em; but both are simply outstanding with great voices; Barone’s take on Streets of New York makes it sound young, fresh and even ‘Indie’; and the way Casey turns American Ride into a Springsteen epic, that wouldn’t have been out of place on Western Stars.
This is still only album #1 btw; and while every track is well worth your time; two especially have captured my heart ……… Graham Parker belting out One Guitar offers no surprises to me; as it’s a marriage made in Heaven; but when (another new name to RMHQ) Quarter Horse reinvent themselves as The Band to sing When Levon Sings, my heart actually skipped a couple of beats …….. and did anyone ever write a finer verse than:
Born on a farm down in Arkansas
Best damn singer that you ever saw
Now he’s keeping time with the man upstairs
When the lightning cracks that’s Levon’s snare
The lightning cracks that’s Levon’s snare!

Then, of course there’s the second album!
WOW! Is that Nils Lofgren?
Yes indeed; it is he who starts this side with a Gospel version of the already beautiful All God’s Children (Gonna Sing) all done in Lofgren’s own inimitable manner …….. simply stunning.
There’s a crazy juxtaposition by following this with Caroline Doctorow singing Lonesome Dark Eyed Beauty in the most fragile and beautiful manner; and yet again proving Nile’s songs are Classics waiting to be discovered.
As I already know every song here and associate them with Willie’s world weary and often angry voice; it’s been a genuine pleasure hearing them re-interpreted for a female voice; and indeed perspective.
Which happens again with Jen Chapin’s intricate singing of The Crossing and Lucy Kaplansky singing When The Lights Go Out on Broadway; makes Nile sound like a great lost American poet.
If you already know Willie Nile’s work, you too will have been wondering who will be covering House of a Thousand Guitars ….. and how.
Well; it’s someone called Allen Santoriello; and while still paying reverence to the original (warbling geetaahhhrs!) he turns it into one hell of a Honky Tonker! This could only have been bettered in this style if it had been Hank Jr.
Again; for Nile’s devotees ……. there’s a lovely little ‘Easter egg’ with the album closing with long time cohort; and the handsomest man in Rock and Roll; Johnny Pisone who goes back to One Guitar and gives it a Reggae riff ……. not foe the purist; but I’ve grown to love it over the last few weeks ….. especially when the sun was shining.
Just like Album #1 a couple of songs jumped out at me the first time I played them; the beautiful love song Sideways Beautiful has been a firm favourite ever since I first heard it on The Innocent Ones in 2010; and when sung by RMHQ Favourite Slaid Cleaves, I welled up and made Mrs Magpie stop doing what she was doing to listen.
She did; and smiled at me.
It’s that type of song.
Another Friend of RMHQ, Rod Picott then strips Lookin’ For Someone into what may become one of Americana’s finest ballads, with a stinging pedal-steel in the background; which I doubt Willie ever intended or thought about.
I’ve physically forced myself not t select any of those as my Favourite Song; although they would certainly be worthy; but I’m going slightly left of centre and selecting a singer, whom I’ve not heard of as he has turned a great piano ballad inside out and made it into a Folk Song that defies the aging process; John Gorka and his wonderful version of I Don’t Do Crazy Anymore.
Both powerful and beautiful …….. oh; and tear inducing too.
Personally I’ve always thought Willie Nile to be a great songwriter; but didn’t realise that so many other people, especially so many other esteemed singer-songwriters did too.
One of the great joys here is that Willie Nile’s fans (like me) have the opportunity to discover some great new acts; plus the fans of those acts can now discover the genius of Willie Nile too.

Released August 21st 2020

Savoy Brown AIN’T DONE YET

Savoy Brown
Ain’t Done Yet
Quarto Valley Records

Still Firing on All Cylinders.

As I said last year when I reviewed their CITY NIGHT album; I was staggered to find that Savoy Brown were still ‘on the go’; but pleasantly so as the album itself was “full of fire, passion and excitement and is a bit of a keeper.”
So; apart from the world almost imploding; has anything changed in the Savoy Brown camp?
Mercifully, the answer is a resounding NO!
While I’m sure if you did a ‘compare and contrast’ with their 1967 debut, SHAKE DOWN this and that would be chalk and cheese; but …….. while having progressed; and pretty much slowed down (it’s an age thing kids) AIN’T DONE YET is still an obvious product of the 60’s British Blues Boom; and I couldn’t be any happier because of it.
Without actually sounding like a ‘feeling sorry for yourself’ song; opening track All Gone Wrong is a tongue in cheek Blues walloper, that appealed to me on every level from the diesel powered spine from drummer and bassist Garnet Grimm and Pat DeSalvo through Simmonds’ dynamic solos on the Gibson Flyin’ V (a much maligned but staggering beautiful sounding geetar!) and of course the story could be about me #wink.
It’s patently obvious that after plying his trade for over half a century that Kim Simmonds would have the hang of it all, by now; but it’s never the less mega-surprising when you stumble on track #3 River On The Rise for the first time. Acoustic guitar and slide par-excellence; as Simmonds’ gravelly voice tells a stark tale of Climate Change, in a way that will appeal to wrinkly old rockers and sandal wearing hipster alike.
‘Write about what you know’ is the finest adage a songwriter can hear; and Kit still does that with intrigue and fascination in equal measures.
The band get their ‘Boogie on’ during Jaguar Car; a ‘dream’ prized possession for the singer; and although as British as British things get; I think it will be a winner on American Blues/Rock radio too.
The song that precedes it, sounds semi-autobiographical too; the sad tale of the troubadour musician; Feel Like a Gypsy ……. slow burning and mournful too; and Simmonds’ slide guitar sounds as if it’s got the ghost of Peter Green haunting it.
Another I presume from the same lineage of ‘write about you know’ is Soho Girl; although it’s presumably not to be taken 100% literally; as it’s a growling song of unrequited love about an unattainable, fantasy woman that flits around bohemian circles in the likes of both London and New York’s Soho districts.
While Kit Simmonds certainly has his own distinctive style of guitar playing, which is showcased right across all 10 songs; he’s not afraid to wear his influences on his guitar strap; especially on the instrumental Crying Guitar which is as fluid as anything George Harrison or Gary Moore ever recorded in their most melancholic moments; and of course Rocking in Louisiana is everything you would expect from a song with that title; and I guess that there are more louder versions in the can; and will possibly ending up being a good ole electric guitar stomper eventually; but will always be remembered for the authenticity that’s brought to the original here via the steel Dobro and a jug-band arrangement. #classy
I’ve decided to delve into Savoy Brown’s trademark nod to the Blues for my Favourite song here; and it’s a gold pound toss-up between the Albert Collins and Shuggie Otis (?) inspired slow burner Devil’s Highway and the rifftastic title track Ain’t Done Yet, which could easily have been recorded by Savoy Brown any time in the last 50 years; but makes much more defiant sense today in 2020, as he/they and us are desperately trying to hold on the last vestiges of our youth or should that be Middle Age?
In fairness, the album title says it all ……… Savoy Brown – Ain’t Done Yet!

Released August 28th 2020

btw Here’s their Wikipedia page which will impress the absolute Hell out of you!