Oh man! I heard a rumour a month or so ago ……. and now here it is; Steve Sings Justin! Me? I’ve been a fan of Steve Earle’s ever since Copperhead Road; but….. and those who know me will confirm it; I’m actually more a fan of Justin Townes Earle; whose songs have ‘touched me’ in so many ways, over the years; few more so than Harlem River Blues.
Here’s what else you need to know ……. On the forthcoming album,J.T., Steve Earle & The Dukes pay tribute to Steve’s late son, Justin Townes Earle (J.T.), who passed away on August 20, 2020 in Nashville. The album will be released digitally on what would have been Justin’s 39th birthday, January 4, 2021, CD and vinyl formats will release March 19, 2021.
The first track, “Harlem River Blues” is available to stream today. The poignant song is one of Justin’s best-known compositions and took Song of the Year honors at the 2011 Americana Music Awards ceremony following Justin’s win in the Emerging Artist of the Year category in 2009.
100% of the artist advances and royalties from J.T. will be donated to a trust for Etta St. James Earle, the three-year-old daughter of Justin and Jenn Earle. While sombre in parts, the album is ultimately a rousing celebration of a life lived with passion and purpose.
Beautifully Crafted Folk Songs Destined to Break a Thousand Hearts.
Ahhhhh; Robin Adams, son of Chris and Pauline Adams who were the axis of one of my favourite bands of all time, String Driven Thing, of whom Robin became an occasional member in the bands latter days. Enough of the history lesson; that’s what Wikipedia is for, not RMHQ. I only have two of Robin’s 5 previous releases; but they are both cherished parts of my ever growing collection. As with many artists in 2020 the various Lockdowns around the globe has necessitated a ‘back to basics’ attitude; and it’s no surprise that this actually suits the Glaswegian’s unprepossessing and intimate style of Folk perfectly. Robin’s warm Scottish tones run through opening track A Friend of Mine like a peaty Highland Malt on an Autumnal evening in front of the fire. This very personal story has a sting in the tail when you listen carefully; but that won’t unravel for a few plays; but when it does you will find yourself blowing your cheeks out and sighing. In a grand tradition that goes back to the cusp of the 1950’s and 60’s; Robin Adams is a Folk Singer; no more and no less; telling stories set to music that resonate with the listener in a way most other mediums can’t actually manage. If not ourselves, we all know someone like the characters Adams sings about in the inquisitive Signs and especially Dancer In Your Eyes too; which shows what a craftsman he has grown into. Because of its quirky intro I’d have liked From a Dream to have been the opening song on the album; but whatever, it’s such a beautifully rich Folk Song that I will forgive the programming ‘error.’ Perhaps Robin felt that the ‘subject matter’ may scare off casual listeners; but that would have been their loss. The final song on the album One Thing, is the type of introspective song we’ve come to expect; but then again his striking words and melody are as different from anything I remember from either of the albums in my collection, that you forget what an imaginative songwriter he is. (I keep forgetting to mention the delightful and intricate melodies on each an every song btw) Perhaps it’s the relatively simple ‘home production’ on ONE DAY, but I can’t say I’ve ever noticed what a talented guitarist Robin is; very much in the tradition of Bert Jansch and John Martyn; back in the halcyon days of bedsit lothario’s. I’m struggling to choose between two very, very different songs as My Favourite here. It would be easy to select the ‘love song’ All Your Money as it’s as near to commercial and up-tempo as Robin Adams gets here; and who doesn’t like a song with whistling in it? But; there’s also one other that I was drawn to as soon as I saw the track listing; and has proven to be as dark and (again) personal as a song from Robin Adams will ever get. The raw honesty in Black Cloud will upset many listeners; but much like Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues many years ago; it will touch the hearts and souls of far too many people (myself included) who will think, ” He is singing about me” and for that; I can only thank Robin Adams so profusely for daring to write and release such a brave, yet delicate song. I don’t know where Robin Adams sits in the grand pantheon of Scottish singer-songwriters; as he never gets ‘mentioned in despatches’ even though he is one of the nations finest songwriters IMHO; and his natural vocal style is designed to break a thousand hearts.
The Lost Doves Set Your Sights Towards the Sun Green Tea Productions
Bottled, Bowed and Fleeting Musical Magic
RMHQ tries where possible to get our reviews out in the week before an album’s release to help boost sales in that first weekend; but occasionally we have to take a step back, as even though I arrogantly think everyone should know us by now; many Independent Acts are too busy eeking out a living while making actual music; they only find us when we review something by their friends and/or peers. Which brings me to Ian Bailey and Charlotte Newman aka The Lost Doves, from NW England. Following a Social Media request I grumpily said ‘send a copy’ …. ‘but no promises.’ Two days a later a very professional looking CD and accompanying letter arrived; neither of which even hinted at the delights that were to be on offer inside. Now normally when I hear a Soft-Rock 12 String guitar I would immediatly think ‘The Byrds’; but no … no and thrice no; the title track Set Your Sights Towards the Sun sounds much more likely to have been influenced by Teenage Fanclub albeit filtered through a shimmering copy of St. Etienne’s Greatest Hits, with the couple’s harmonies sounding like tattered velvet on a windy day. This is immediatly followed by Charlotte taking the lead on the subliminal and shimmering, Waves, which conjures up memories of first hearing Trinity Sessions by Cowboy Junkies. Do you get the picture yet? There’s a whole lot going on here, with almost everything gently sparking off those first two songs for ‘feelings’; with some wonderful and enigmatic storytelling masked under the couples tragically beautiful arrangements and production. Yes, there’s an intensity to several songs; but when you’re boxed inside your home during 2020; what better way to to spend your solitude than immersing yourself in the rustic charm of Ian singing See Saw, Charlotte’s beautifully haunting Autumn Leaves, or the couple emotionally drowning on More Than I? While the whole album has been a delightful surprise to me; their are more than a few individual surprises contained therein; none more so than The Wishing Gate, whose lyrics are drawn from a poem by Ian about ‘the neglect, rape and destruction of our planet’ and sung ever so enigmatically by Charlotte as Ian strums that 12 String as if his life depends on it. I know where I’m not going for my Favourite Song; and that’s the psychedelic instrumental The Clowns are Coming to Town; what might have been a good idea in the studio stands out like a sore thumb here ….. again, RMHQ says no, no and thrice no! But that still leaves plenty more to choose from; the wistful love song, Wired Into You? Another slice of delicate beauty, You Stop Me From Falling? Another gorgeous nod in the direction of Teenage Fanclub, She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes? Or; and the one I’m selecting today; the fluttering Sally Weather, which showcases both voices individually and together and bizarrely has had me comparing it to acts as diverse as the Beatles, Stone Roses and All About Eve; yet doesn’t actually sound like any individual song by any of them! I hear a lot of albums ‘a bit like this;’ but The Lost Doves really capture and bottle some fleeting musical magic on these songs; and I can imagine both Bob Harris and Lauren Laverne on their disparate BBC Radio Shows loving many songs here; as will their respective audiences.
DUKE ROBILLARD & FRIENDS Blues Bash Stony Plain Records
“Nothing Fancy?” Nah … This is The Rhythm & Blues Supreme!
Michael John Robillard recently turned 72 years of age and shows no signs of slowing down. Being the co-founder (with Al Copley) of Roomful of Blues back in 1967, ‘Duke’ has consistently produced a lifetime of great blues music. With well over 30 albums as leader or co-leader of bands and then another 30+ with various other bands and individuals, delivering great guitar and vocals on each and everyone.
Blues Bash is his latest studio offering, and another undoubted, sure-fire winner, with a total of 10 tracks flying through 42 minutes. Two instrumentals, three songs with Chris Cote on vocals and one with Michelle ‘Evil Gal’ Willson; leaving Duke to sing the other couple. Backed by some stellar musicians, including some of the original Roomful of Blues brass section, this is a glorious vintage style, danceable blues party album.
Straight out of the Ike Turner catalogue, “Do You Mean It” gets the party started, genuine rockin’ and swingin’ R&B with Chris Cotes at the microphone and Duke replicating some of Ike’s stinging Fender licks. Chris’s next singing has him covering a Roy Milton classic “What Can I Do” originally released on the Speciality Label in 1953, here not just featuring Dukes clean guitar but some terrific piano from Bruce Bears; and as you’d expect, very solid and tight horns. The third and final vocal input from Cotes is a real lively rendition of T-Bone Walker’s 1953 R&B song “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing”, with the punchy triple saxes complementing Dukes marvellous, understated guitar.
Of the two instrumentals I particularly liked the cover of Lefty Bates’ “Rock Alley” with the sharp guitar picking and honking saxes, all guaranteed to get the rug rolled up and everyone out on the kitchen floor. “Just Chillin’ concludes the entire set and is a Robillard original tune that verges into slow, smooth jazz, opening with swinging bass and drums, then some mellow tasty Sax and subtle Hammond, before the main man’s magic fingers stride along with his beautiful touch and tone.
Returning to the remaining vocal tracks, Dukes’ Smiley Lewis impersonation on the Dave Bartholomew song “I Ain’t Gonna Do It” is a real N’Awlins floor shaker with Mark ‘Mr. B.’ Braun” the main feature on a lively piano intro, plus the further addition of the middle solo. Bob Walsh takes over the 88’s, with Duke covering the vocals on his own composition “No Time” plus Mark Hummel providing West-side of Chicago sounding harmonica. The boss also does a very credible vocal on Al Kings’ slow blues from 1966 “Everybody Ain’t Your Friend” and then again, likewise on his own song “Give Me All The Love You Got”, which has a wonderful 24 second blistering Texas Blues type introduction to a jumping shuffle. Ironically, my favourite track though has ‘Evil Gal’ Wilson performing a cracking job on the cover of Helen Humes 1952 hit “You Played On My Piano,” another bouncy, jump-jive with trademark horns and further exquisite jazz guitar from Duke.
Despite the world-wide pandemic and all it’s restrictions, there have still been some excellent new releases these last few months. Take my word for it, this is right up there with the best of them, Duke Robillard might bashfully tell you “It’s nothing fancy, just good old blues,” well it’s certainly that, but also refreshingly neoteric, all at the same time.
Jack Kidd – “Messin’ with the Kidd” on lionheartradio.com
21st Century Country Bravado, Sensitivity and So Much More.
When I first received this last week I knew I had a dilemma. I played it while doing some chores, and thoroughly enjoyed it so played it again in the car with Mrs Magpie tapping her hands on her thighs along to the melodies …. which is a good sign with Country Music. We are both fans of Toby Keith and Tim McGraw as well as Jason Isbell and Johnny Cash, which shouldn’t come as a surprise should it? Then I read the Press Release, only to find Lee Brice is already something of a Star in the modern Country scene with numbers in his streaming stats that are totally mind-boggling. So; my dilemma was would a review on RMHQ make a ha’peth of difference to his sales/streams, when I have a box of CD’s from Indie acts that do depend on sites like ours for getting their music across to the populace? Well; it was during the drive to work one afternoon with these Brice’s anthems blasting out of the speakers when the lyrics in a chorus caught my attention …… YIKES! Baring in mind this was the days after the US Election, I was actually caught off guard and …… actually quite shocked at what I heard ….. hence my second dilemma. But; perhaps arrogantly I think I need to put my thoughts ‘out there’ and see what the reaction is. One of the main reasons I kept getting drawn back is opening track Atta Boy. A doozy anthem of a Nu-Country song where our natator sees good things around him that normally go unnoticed; but need praising and all played out alongside some searing guitar and pneumatic bass n drums too. Next up is the delightful One of Those Girls; a single that has garnered many of those mind boggling stats; and you can easily hear why. A punchy Country beat and a singer pouring his heart out to the unrequited love of his life …….. we’ve all been there. So far so good; and much of what follows touches these lofty heights too; none more so than the laid back vibes on Do Not Disturb and the enigmatic heartfelt Lies too, which go to show what a delightful sensitive side Lee Brice has and uses to great effect on an album full of light and shade. What appears to have been tagged on at the end is the CMA nominated humungous Hit Single alongside Carley Pearce, Hope You’re Happy Now. Very good it is too and I understand why it’s been so popular on the radio (Mrs Magpie loves it btw); but ten minutes later; I can’t remember it …… sorry. To some degree a song with the title Good Ole Boys should have sent up some smoke signals; but it’s actually nowhere near as ‘frightening’ as I’d feared; being a lot more Dukes of Hazard than Proud Boys, that’s for sure! In a similar vein; Memory I Don’t Mess With, with it’s reference to ‘Springsteen on the speakers/girl I’m on fire‘ and Country Knows are perhaps the biggest and best surprises here as Brice paints delightful pictures, namechecking ‘the Haggard songs my Daddy played’ on a song that touches on the darker side of life that only Country Music can cure – clever and sing-along too. Before I come to My Favourite song, I have to discuss two, maybe three songs that have left me feeling uncomfortable. While an incredibly ‘clever’ and thoughtful song, Save The Roses which takes on the narrative of someone dying, or is it the narrator taking on the role of the young man in the coffin; telling everyone to live life to the fill, before it’s too late; but there’s a line in the chorus where I shuddered; “Save my truck Save my guns And when their old enough Give them to my sons …. “ I don’t come from such a culture where that’s second nature; but I’m sadly sure it’s going to play out well with many in the Red States. The other song is even more blatant, as the opening verse finding Lee Brice hollering; “If you don’t like our drinkin’ If you don’t like our trucks If you don’t like our rifles Buddy ….. we don’t give a fuck!“ The song then gets even more defiant and has left a sour taste in my mouth; but I do know it’s going to make Lee Brice a legend in bars and Honky-Tonks where I would be frightened to order a beer in a straight glass. Now that’s out of the way; on an album full of cracking and crackling good Country songs, two in particular stand out from the crowd; and they couldn’t be more different, making my choice of actual Favourite Song left to the toss of a coin. The first few times I played track #3, More Beer I smiled and inadvertently nodded my head along to this pumping party anthem. OK, I’m far too old to be part of the video; but hey …… I too was young once and can still ‘romantically’ visualise the teenage me sitting on the back of a semi-truck waving my beer in the air as both the speakers and the girls rock and indeed roll. The other; and probably the very best song here is Sons & Daughters; which is just a massive surprise as Brice sings about the juxtapositions that surround him and us in life, starting with; “Right now there’s a redneck boy On a tractor Sweating Seven days a week So you and m can drive five minutes in the AC To get the groceries ……….. So quick to judge them, aren’t we?” Hopefully this is the song that Lee Brice will be remembered for in decades to come; but I have my doubts and the less said about that; the better.
SAMANTHA MARTIN & DELTA SUGAR The Reckless One Gypsy Soul/ Factor
Sizzling Old-Time R&B and Soul Straight Outta Canada.
Ignore Canadian Blues Music at your peril. Over the years the likes of Jeff Healey, Sue Foley, Colin James and Matt Andersen have all valiantly flown the flag, plus JW Jones and even Colin Linden can also be added to list too. Now, make room for the talented Samantha Martin.
With 5 previous albums, stretching back to 2008, she’s certainly not the new kid on the block, but there’s no doubting that her development has distinctly propelled forward since the concept of Delta Sugar was added to her armoury 6 years ago. Now, late in this crazy year we have the follow up to 2018’s very well received Run to Me and it elevates the Toronto native onto a whole other level. Gypsy Soul Records have patiently held back the new albums’ full release after a couple of teaser singles were made available earlier in the summer.
The Reckless One has twelve Blues & Soul numbers, eleven of which Samantha had more than a hand in writing, with the odd one being from the pen of someone called Bob Dylan. All credit to the actual producers: Renan Yildizdogan and Darcy Yates, who have ensured that there is variation and a wide spectrum of sounds. For my money, the overall finished item being closer to product that previously came out of Muscle Shoals or Jackson rather than Memphis and Detroit.
“Love is All Around” gets the party started with a full punchy horn section complementing the vocals of Samantha followed by the stomping, floor filling, foot-tapping “Don’t Have to Be;” which has a special bonus of a pleasant Garth Hudson sounding organ solo. We then have the audacious funky cover of Dylan’s “Meet Me in The Morning,” which sounds as though it was recorded way down at Cosimo Studios, in the Big Easy and produced by Toussaint & Sehorn.
There are a couple of slower, gospely, numbers too; with “Better to Have Never” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” highlighting the excellent, controlled vocals, aided by a churchy organ. If you like St. Paul & the Broken Bones then there are four or five sultry mid-tempo numbers that smoulder and shine in that same sort of vein, whilst the up-beat duo “Sacrifice” and “Pass Me By” conjure up images of when Phil Spector successfully attempted to influence Ike & Tina in the mid 1960s.
Honestly, I struggled to pull out a favourite, mainly because there’s not a duff song on the album. The consistent quality runs right throughout, just like a stick of Blackpool Rock. Oh, go on then, the gem I’ll cast my vote for is one of the sultry, mid-tempo numbers; “So I Always Know,” which has the catchy chorus of ‘Tell me so I’ll always know, I hear your secrets, whispered soft and low, Tell me so I’ll always know’.
From the above, you can hopefully ascertain that Samantha Martin plus her team of musicians and studio maestros have delivered a truly splendid album. The Reckless One is anything but reckless, as it is a dozen well measured and well balanced songs which, to me, are genuine sounding Old-Time R&B/Soul that certainly hit the spot. NB I won’t be surprised if the people who decide on Juno or Grammy Awards have their eye on this most enjoyable album.
A Storyteller of the Finest Hue, Using the Medium of Music to Reel the Listener In.
Good luck to Northern Irish singer-songwriter Ben Glover, who has made quite the name for himself in recent years as a ‘go to’ co-songwriter; most notably with the delectable Gretchen Peters; but a multitude of others too. But …… and this is a very personal ‘but’ …… I just wish that fame and (hopefully) fortune had come via his own solo work; because it certainly deserves it. He’s been a busy lad in the last few years; meaning this Four Track release is his first since SHOREBOUND in 2018; and has been a very welcome surprise at RMHQ this week. The ever so delicate and charming title track Sweet Wild Lily opens the proceedings in a timeless and almost haunting manner. Glover’s distinctive voice aches with longing as he tells the tale of lost love; or is it just plain unrequited as the target of his admirations treads her very own path that doesn’t always include him. Without reading the accompanying Press Release; I’m not sure if I’ve heard Arguing With Ghosts before; it certainly sounds as if I should have, if I haven’t*. Written alongside the enigmatic Matraca Berg; Colm McLean’s shimmering guitar makes an already haunting tale almost frightening in it’s delivery. A little part of me was hoping that Broke Down would be Slaid Cleaves’ song of the same name; but nope, it’s actually a Glover/Gretchen Peters song; and as Country as I’ve ever heard Ben; courtesy of a nascent banjo/pedal-steel combo in the background ……. but it will be his stinging words what you remember hours and even days afterwards. This only leaves the single Fireflies Dancing to tell you about. But that’s not as easy as you’d imagine. Put simply; this is one of the finest and deepest songs I’ve heard this year – and I’ve heard a lot. A relatively simple production and arrangement masks a song that I’m 99% sure is destined for numerous Country/Americana albums in the next few years; sometimes sung solo alongside an old acoustic guitar and also when it’s almost unrecognisable with a big ole rocking band and a singer in a Trucker cap and Redwings; and it lends itself to everything in between too. Ben Glover is first and foremost a storyteller of the finest hue, one who uses the medium of music to reel the listener in; and he does it like an age old Irish Mystic.
*Doh!! Of course Arguing With Ghosts is the opening track on Gretchen Peters’ DANCING WITH THE BEAST from 2018!
Deeply Felt and Dreamy Canadiana For The Lovelorn Everywhere.
Although I had heard of Gianna Lauren I have to admit to not being an expert on her work; so reviewing a 5 track EP certainly falls into the ‘new artiste’ category for me, even though she has had at least one album released in addition to a couple of EPs. I seem to have become the reviewer ‘of choice’ when it comes to our Canadian cousins recently, as this is the 4th I have listened to in the last month or so, and hopefully this would maintain the high standards of the previous three. As with almost every release in 2020 regardless of the artist or the genre, the effects of the various lockdowns and pandemic have, to differing degrees, had an impact on singer/writers, and Gianna has confirmed she was similarly affected. ‘Spark’ is the opener, and the gentle drum and guitar entrée suggests a very moody Folkie type of Rock in a fairly stripped back arrangement, to accompany a sweet vocal and a female backing before ending on an even more idyllic note. The song was written during a late night studio combination session of both writing and recording, with the aim of Gianna putting forward her views in social injustice and the position of not being able to help to any appreciable amount. ‘Before I die I wanna tell you I love you BUT while I’m alive I’m just gonna hide’. Track 2, ‘Whoa’ is aided by a lovely horn section that works perfectly as the guitar middle section neatly dovetails with a light string accompaniment. Another very articulate and ‘easy on the ear’ track. The guitar picks out the opening to ‘Closed Chapter’ as an attempt to ‘point in the right direction’ always seems to meet a ‘set of deflections – the same old story’. No matter how hard you try sometimes things just don’t come out the way you want. ‘Innocent Tourist’ is for me the track that offers the best way to listen to; and to appreciate Gianna’ distinctive vocal styling – much more of a traditional female working of a song, leading up to a dramatic denouement. The short set ends with ‘Disappear’ and the plea to ‘go get dressed as you can’t wear that tonight as we are going out’ knowing that it’s inevitable that as soon as ‘you get there you go on and disappear’. Very much a late night Jazz trio type of song, with the crowd cowed and silent, picking up and on every word of the song. Possibly one of a couple of songs that aren’t always on the same wavelength, once out of the safe environment of home. There is certainly one thing that both Gianna and myself agree on – listening to music on a walk is the best way to really get into either an album or some specific track. This is exactly how I listened to her delightful set. The nicest thing I can say, is that these 5 tracks have got me looking for some of Gianna Lauren’s previous work(s) – and I am pretty confident I won’t be disappointed. I would like to hear her take on some slightly more upbeat numbers; but I may get that on my next few music walks anyway, but whatever I find out I hope that horn backing is more prominent – it’s brilliant. Canada wins again!!! And without taking days for a re-count.
George Benson Weekend in London Provogue/Mascot Label
Surprises Around Every Corner.
I was pretty damn excited to receive this a few weeks ago, as when I was something of a Soul Boy back in the 1980’s his Livin’ Inside Your Love, In Your Eyes and Give Me The Night LP’s were a major part of my weekend soundtrack; and the relevent singles were bonafide dancefloor fillers at the clubs I haunted too. Times move on and my music tastes changed; but every now and again these albums or more likely The Collection (now on CD) still get played at Casa Pica Pica; as my wife was and is a big fan too. Now; as ‘real’ fans know this was only a very short period in George Benson’s career, having started out playing guitar ‘for money’ as an 8 year old and cutting his first discs a year later! I also re-discovered him via Francis Wolf’s amazing photography book; Blue Note, as the guitarist is there in the mid 1960’s laying down licks on tracks that have become household names! So; without this turning into a history lesson; let’s leap forward to a ground breaking weekend in 2019 at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in the heart of London. Although he could probably sell out a month of gigs in Vegas; George pays homage to his beginnings by returning to the scene of one his first ever gigs outside the USA. Now; ‘spoiler alert’ ….. FAO Soul Boys and girls; what follows is a heady brew of Benson’s hits, misses and more; and while Soulful …….. this is George and Band tripping down their Jazz path; and the arrangements may confuse the casual listener (e.g Mrs Magpie!), but steady your nerves as what comes out of your speakers has the capacity to blow your mind! The Classic and classy Give Me The Night opens proceedings; and in all of the best Jazz traditions ‘features all of the right notes; just not necessarily in the right order;’ to paraphrase Eric Morecombe esq. In the liner notes George says that they go out with a set list and some melodies; and the rest is down to the ‘mood of the room’ and that brings out some glorious reworkings of songs that featured heavily in my younger life; Love X Love, Turn Your Love Around, In Your Eyes and of course, the absolutely glorious Feel Like Making Love; which is now tempered in such a way it certainly now suits the elderly among us again. But; and here’s the real reason you should buy this album, their are surprises around every corner …….. none more so than the way he turns I Hear You Knocking into a late night slice of sexy sleaze; and his guitar playing while as exemplary as you’d expect on every song; but on Love Ballad and Affirmation it’s quite extraordinary at times …… really, really showing why he’s often referred to as a ‘Guitarist’s Guitarist’ …… slinky, intricate and sounding like liquid gold in every note. Gosh; how on earth am I expected to select a Favourite Song here? But I must; and I’m torn between two absolute belters. The hit Never Give Up On a Good Thing goes off in 100 different directions during its 4 minutes and 41 seconds but never loses that hypnotic melody and beautiful sentiment. The other comes from the pen of another; originally written by Donny Hathaway in 1969, was just as relevant 50 years later in the Summer of 2019. Sad but true. For me it just sounds the perfect song for George Benson (and band) to play the funk out of inside a tiny Jazz Club as the world around us seemed to be going to Hell in a handcart. Everything about it, from Benson’s feisty guitar playing, the impassioned keyboards, potent drums and nothing more so than the female backing singers’ Gospel singing combine to make for a beautifully intense 6 minutes of raw and soulful Jazz Music for the masses. The album closes with the delightful Cruise Control, which allows everyone on stage a chance to shine in the spotlight. As I said at the beginning, WEEKEND IN LONDON will be a ‘considered purchase;’ as it’s not just a re-working of Benson’s Greatest Hits just for the sake of it; this is the guitar player George Benson at his absolute finest and taking some of his most famous songs on a joyous ride at the same time.
DAVE ALVIN From an Old Guitar (Unreleased Recordings). Yep Roc Records
Long Lost Americana Gems Rescued For Posterity.
It’s over 40 years since The Blasters first propelled the Alvin Brothers onto the world stage; predominantly revolving around elder brother Phil the main vocalist and brother and lead guitarist, Dave. The brother’s explosive relationship is well documented; and eventually the younger sibling eventually split from the band in 1986 to pursue his own more singular career. Since then Dave Alvin has provided a plethora of musical options for his fans and thankfully the two things that have remained constant, over the decades, is the quality of the music and that wonderful deep, dark baritone voice.
As a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and a more than willing collaborator he has few equals. So, in 2020, with the world in the depths of a weird and scary pandemic, filling recording studios with human players and knob twiddlers has become nigh on impossible. What’s a creative boy to do? Well, if you’re Dave Alvin you have a look at your library of past recordings that, for one reason or another, were left off previous releases; and you also consider tracks that furnished various tributes etc. and then pull them together into a mighty fine 16 track album. It’s no-where near a potentially unbalanced hotchpotch, it’s not even an incongruous collection, it just bloomin’ well works as a ‘complete ALBUM’ in its own rite. If you know anything about Dave Alvin then his humble, self-deprecating approach to life and especially to his music has always been with his feet firmly on the ground, remaining staunchly modest whilst delivering continual, persistent, high-grade, end product.
From an old Guitar and Unreleased Recordings has 13 sublime cover versions and 3 self-penned numbers, cutting across various genres. Additionally, there’s an unbelievable array of guest contributors, including some much loved friends who are sadly no longer with us. The lead track sets the tone with a Chris Smither cover, “Link of Chain” followed by Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” which had been a pre-release teaser single. Lil’ Hardin Armstrong’s “Perido Street Blues” and Earl Hooker’s “Variations on Earl Hooker’s Guitar Rhumba” are both absolutely first class, rousing instrumentals and well worthy of inclusion. “On My Way Downtown,” from the pen of Peter & Joshua Case features two of the unfortunately departed, with Amy Farris’ violin and Chris Gaffney’s accordion helping provide a somewhat Celtic sound, which you don’t normally associate with Dave Alvin.
Wyman Reese adds a beautiful, restrained piano on the cover of Bill Morrisey’s “Inside,” whilst Gaffney tinkles the ivories, as well as adding accordion, on the prolific Bob McDill’s “Amanda,” which happened to be the eighth number one country hit for Waylon Jennings back in 1974. As you might expect, the tempo increases on the cover of Link Wray’s “Albuquerque,” where Alvin himself delivers some fine wah-wah guitar. Obviously, the Blues come to the fore whenever anyone covers a Willie Dixon song, and Dave’s low pitched voice convincingly projects the lyrics of “Peace,” which are just as relevant today as they were when Dixon recorded the original almost 50 years ago. “You make a deaf man hear and a dumb man speak, but It don’t make sense if you can’t make peace”
If I had to choose a favourite track then two contenders jump out. Firstly, one of Alvin’s own compositions, the third instrumental called “Crazy and Ignatz” which just has Alvin strummin’ his trusty 1934 National Steel Duolian Guitar paired with some superb Dobro from one of his hugely talented Guilty Women, Cindy Cashdollar. However, just easing it out and into my actual top-spot is a lively version of Mickey Newbury’s “Mobile Blue,” which has one of the weirder starts you’ll ever hear, with Bill Frisell’s backwards guitar intro.
Currently there are some fine new releases by artists recording basic and simple albums, often re-interpreting their Greatest Hits in the comfort of their own home studio. Modern technology has made this eminently possible for almost everyone. Clearly, not an option chosen by Dave Alvin. Here’s the puzzler though; if many of these songs were deemed unsuitable for previous albums, then we all should promptly re-visit his esteemed catalogue of work to re-affirm just how marvellous and pleasurable a musician he is. Thank goodness these beauties have been rescued from the cutting room floor and packaged into a well balanced and extremely entertaining album that I am personally struggling to take off the CD player.
Jack Kidd – “Messin’ with the Kidd” on lionheartradio.com