It’s Friday so it must be MUSIC HOUR time! Episode 4 and it’s as eclectic as ever, with plenty of obligatory brand new songs from albums either just released or on the horizon as well as some absolute pearls I’ve dusted off from my record collection ….. and of course there’s a fabulous Gateway Record from our friend Annie Dressner.
All of the episodes in January are sponsored by our friends at TUFAC …. The Trades Union Alcohol Committee; purveyors of clothing, badges, beer and gin for the Socialist and Anti-Fascist in your life. Tell them we sent you ….. https://tufac.bigcartel.com/
Captivating Lo-Fi Folk From the Heart but Aimed Directly at Your Soul.
Being the Music Snob I am; when the opening paragraph on a Press Release compares the act to both Coldplay and Mumford & Sons normally my shutters would automatically go up and stay locked. But, thankfully I had already played this album twice when I read that so can honestly go “Pah! What do you know?” to said copywriter. The Burnt Pines aka Danish-born singer and lyricist, Kris Skovmand, keyboard player Miguel Sá Pessoa and arranger/guitarist Aaron Flanders pretty much have their own distinctive Folky meets Lo-Fi sound that actually nods towards David Gates’ Bread or Simon and Garfunkel if I’m not too mistaken. The opening track Diamonds features a beautiful guitar interlude before Kris’s delightful and smoky voice eases in on a fascinating story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. In the real world this album will be the perfect accompaniment to almost any living room activity (with your clothes on!) as Skovmand’s voice and the melodies in Mother On The Mountain, Make The Sign and Song For Rose will feel like a warm breeze; but you will then be missing some rather enticing lyrics; which will be a mistake. Just like my occasional discussions about the quality of guitar playing these days; is it me or is the standard of songwriting leaps and bounds more advanced than in the golden days of Singer-songwriters between ’68 and ’78? Obviously we’ve never heard of The Burnt Pines before; but just when you think you don’t need to hear another winsome love song ever again along they come with not just Waiting For You but Only In The Soul too! Forced into using modern technology to send lyrics and the constituent parts around the world during various Covid induced Lockdown; The Burnt Pines have still managed to create some delightfully intimate songs like From Seville to Manhattan and April Child that will live with fans forever. For my own personal Favourite Song I’m torn between two very diverse songs; which also goes to show the strength of this album. Track #2 Heavy and Young definitely has a Simon and Garfunkel vibe to it; albeit with a contemporary ‘edge’ to the lyrics; and the other Oh Me, Oh My ups the pace ever so slightly making it sound intensely claustrophobic and will draw you in towards the speakers so as not to miss a single beat or word. I can see where someone who likes Coldplay and the Mumfords would like The Burnt Pines; but that’s certainly not to say they are influenced by ‘that type of music’; this is Folk Music from the heart and aimed directly at your Soul.
A Refreshing Set of Modern Blues Originals Plus a Couple of Re-Worked Classics.
Here’s a question. Just how many, genuine “Bluesmen” have gone through their whole musical lifetime without ever releasing a solo album? Who knows? Not me; that’s for sure. Thank goodness the Music Maker Relief Foundation teamed up with Cornelius Chapel Records to finally give octogenarian Alabama Slim aka Milton Frazier his opportunity. The actual session took place 18 months ago in a New Orleans studio, called The Parlour. Slim, with his cousin and long-term best pal, guitarist Little Freddie King plus drummer Ardie Dean taking just 4 hours to lay down these 10 tracks. Dean oversaw the production with the DBT’s Matt Patton plus Jimbo Mathus taking care of post-production, retrospectively adding bass and keys where required.
Born Milton Frazier in Vance, Alabama in March 1939, Slim fell in love with traditional Blues at an early age from his father’s collection of 78’s. Moving to New Orleans in 1965, then onto Dallas after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he has now returned to the Crescent City. In fact, had it not been for this damned international pandemic he would have appeared (for the first time ever) at his adopted hometown’s Jazz and Heritage Festival last year. Known as a lifelong dapper dresser, his attire always drew attention, the fact that he’s almost 7 foot tall also kinda helped him stand out in any crowd.
You should consider John Lee Hooker’s classic vocal sound as the template for Alabama Slim’s music, but it’s much, much more than a tribute to the 5 times Grammy winner. Slim and Little Freddie’s dovetailing guitars interweave with Dean’s solid, driving beat. “Hot Foot” welcomes you to the album with a very positive call of ‘All-right’ and an up-beat twin guitar boogie which then leads into “Freddie’s VooDoo Boogie” where Little Freddie is the featured lead vocalist. “Rob Me Without a Gun” slows things down and has Jimbo Mathus’ restrained Hammond providing a much fuller and warmer sound.
“Rock with Me Momma” has Slim pleading with his woman in the time honoured fashion and inviting her to a night of passion, which is then followed (optimistically) by “All Night Long!” A moodier, less frenetic offering, where our main man is searching the streets with the roosters crowing, having the added benefit of some ivory twinkling from Jimbo. Not the ‘other’ “Midnight Rider” but Slim’s own song of the same name again touches on more night time activities followed by a rousing version of the Blues classic “Rock Me Baby” continuing a similar, familiar theme of most of the earlier tracks.
The closing track is “Down in the Bottom” with stripped back vocals and those familiar twin guitars delivering a sultry and swampy sound, and the familiar JLH facsimile of “Someday Baby” certainly had my foot stomping too. However, for me the standout track is the self-penned, politically charged number, entitled “Forty Jive” which could have been written by Tony Joe White, again reflecting the alligators and bayous of Louisiana.
In summary, Alabama Slim’s story is a vivid lesson of perseverance, resolutely sticking with the moaning and groaning of the Delta Blues that he heard in the 1940’s on his grand-parents farm, in the ‘Yellowhammer State’. The album is a delightful collection, consisting mostly of refreshing, modern originals that avoid being cliched, with just a couple of re-worked old blues classics that all fit superbly on the plate served up in The Parlor.
Jack Kidd“Messin’ with the Kidd” on lionheartradio.com
Laid Back Bluesy Grooves For Winter’s Evenings And a Summer’s Days Too.
In principal we like to be ‘ahead of the game’ with our reviews at RMHQ, trying to get them to you before release; but that’s not always possible …… which is why I’ve only gotten around to playing this album by Zed Mitchell from Essen, Germany, a month after it first came out; and only then via a gentle push from Pete Feenstra who wrote four of the songs here. In my defence I’ve been very busy – it was Christmas after all! So; as is my won’t I gave it a try last weekend, which was frosty and sunny on a short car ride (honest guv) to do my daily exercise. While most of my journey was on the A693, ROUTE 66 proved a delightful companion in both directions. The first thing heart squeezing opening track, By Sundown You’ll Be Gone was how much Zed Mitchell reminded me of Chris Rea (and therefore Mark Knopfler by default) in the way his guitar playing is both intricate and fluid while his vocals are soft, purring and almost velvety in texture. Once I got into open country, with frost covered fields for as far as I could see; Mitchell’s sublime Freedom Trail, Life Will Always Find You and; of course the uber-cool I Like to Drive – I’m Ready To Live meant once I’d hit 4th gear I found myself gliding along on a musical cloud of Blues dipped loveliness. I’ve said many times that The Blues comes in a million guises; and sometimes laid back grooves like these are just what the Soul needs; and when you hear Blue In Your Eyes and I’m Still Waiting (To See You) I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me. There are no outright commercial ‘singles’ here; but a couple of songs have really tantalised me this week. The finale Fake is as edgy as Zed Mitchell gets, with his sad tale that covers many parts of our lives; with it one day being about a relationship or a Media Star and on another it may be about the politicians that run and sometimes ruin our lives. But, I will let you decide. The other; and the song I’m selecting as my Favourite Track is ……. Is This Life? Mostly because of Mitchell’s hypnotic guitar playing; but the song; and the way he drops his voice an octave or two is as perfect an example of Contemporary Blues that I expect to hear this year. Zed Mitchell is no ‘new kid on the block’; he’s been appearing on albums for over 50 years as a ‘go to’ session player, but also releasing 7 previous solo albums; but that just goes to show that it’s never too late to discover a new talent.
A Captivating Career Retrospective Plus a Couple of Unmissable Rarities.
With only four albums to show for a career that has spanned nigh on twenty years, this retrospective is quite startling in the quality of Ms. Laube’s songwriting and singing right from very first song, Sweet Boy From Minnesota. Taken from the 2015 album Anna Laube, we are swept along the charming side of Country that we would normally associate with Nanci Griffith, Laura Cantrell or perhaps even Linda Ronstadt; and it’s fair to say Anna stands shoulder to shoulder with all three of those icons of my record collection. What a way to start a Collection! The mood drops somewhat for Track #II, Tom Petty’s Time To Move On; a haunting slow burner with only a piano and French Horn as backing. If you’re already a fan of Anna’s; this song is worth the entrance fee alone, and if you’re new to the songwriter, you will instantly be as smitten as I am. The songs flit carelessly between Anna’s three albums and like that previous song, there are a couple of rarities thrown in too…… and while there’s an element of ‘moving on’ in direction; Anna Elizabeth Laube’s pearlescent voice and insightful songwriting weave a golden thread that pulls everything together as ‘one’. Of the songs I know from the 2016 album TREE, Please Let It Rain in California Tonight and the title track Tree, itself still sound extraordinary in the way Anna captures your imagination with her words and music in a way I still haven’t heard since the first time I heard Joni’s BLUE many moons ago and Sunny Days is the perfect lead into a new song to me, Hippie Boyfriend with its San Francisco circa ’68 vibe. With the divergent songs and tunes on offer I can only imagine an Anna Elizabeth Laube concert will be quite the event, with All My Running, If You Build It and I’m Gone being completely different in theme and construction; but sure to be highlights. When you come back to this album for the second or third time, you will also get the feeling that Anna has been quite brave with her changes of direction throughout her career. Even the earlier acoustic based Singer-songwriter fayre aren’t always ‘obvious’ in the way many of her contemporaries would build a song; with Already There being a prime example. But that theory is even more prescient with the previously unreleased song Jardim de Estrela, with her now breathy vocals over an almost Classical guitar and accordion that wouldn’t be out of place on a Tom Russell song. For a Favourite Track I’ve deliberately missed the songs from TREE, and gone for something new that has a) surprised me and b) stuck with me days after first hearing it/them. Beautiful Boy from OUTTA MY HEAD, is the type of quirky yet lovely song that I love from singer-songwriters, a toe-tapping tune, slick acoustic guitar and words and melody that stick around and come back when you’re least expecting it. The other is Oh My! (Oh Me Oh Me Oh My); a real oddity here, featuring the legendary Chuck Leavell on organ btw; and is a bit of a Big Easy Honky Tonker that will make you want to shuffle your feet and shake your hind end, as Anna enters into unchartered Maria Muldaur territory and comes out the other side totally unscathed. With no discernible ‘hits’ to speak of, releasing a Career Retrospective’ may seem odd; but these songs represent 15 years or more of hard work; perhaps now is the time; and hopefully a stepping stone to Part II of a remarkable career.
Soft Rock Aimed Squarely at Mainstream Country Radio
From the opening lines and bars of this, Logan Mize’s follow up to 2017’s “Come Back Road! , it’s very clear that this is aimed squarely at mainstream country radio – LOUD, brickwall-limited production, slightly vocodered vocals and Soft Rock anthems, like the Mellencamp name-checking “American Livin’” set the template for what is to follow. “I Ain’t Gotta Grow Up” is a tale of hedonistic longevity that probably makes more sense after imbibing the frequently name-checked cold beers….there are two versions on the album – the latter one featuring Willie Jones’ Louisiana Country Hip-Hop artist added to the mix. Track 3 “Who Didn’t” makes a sharp shift from the carpe diem of the two openers and celebrates sepia-tinted working man nostalgia; that also mentions “cold-beer kissing” (which probably isn’t a good idea at the moment tbh….). The slower pace is maintained on “Grew Apart” a straightforward failed relationship tale which uses power-drumming and ‘screamy’ guitar to try and wring some emotion out of a stock situation – there are again two versions on the release – one with Donovan Woods and the other with Alexandra Kay but they’re musically the same apart from the guest vocal interlude. “Gone Goes On and On” is very much in the same vein as its immediate predecessor, both musically and thematically. “Practice Swing” uses sporting metaphor and Soft Rock to tell a tale of the teenage years being relationship practice, basically whereas “Hometown” is classic Heinweh, not just for a place but for a time and a feeling. Again, there’s an idealised nostalgia on display – it’s an everyman tale, which is both its strength for mainstream radio and a possible flaw if the listener finds it too generic. “Get ’em Together” takes a welcome dynamic shift in the duet with Clare Dunn , with keyboards giving the tune a more Euro-pop feel than the Radio Country that precedes it. “Prettiest Girl in the World” – one of two songs on the album that Logan gets a writing credit for – is exactly what you might expect – idealised saccharine and repeated choruses which hammer the message home. “Slow” takes more of a Southern Country Soul feel, which suits its manifesto towards taking life at a steady pace – as advised through the eyes of an old-timer. “Something Just Like This” is a fairly faithful cover of the Chainsmokers/Coldplay track (less fuzzy electro keyboards and more guitars are the main differences). What this album does, quite effectively is it collects a number of single releases into one package – the downside of that is that by collecting a number of tracks that were intended for separate single release into one album, the pacing and dynamic shifts and lack of light and shade (there’s a lot of idealised nostalgia and mid-paced Soft Rock packed close together) make for a less effective listen (especially in one sitting) – but stick the tracks on a shuffled playlist, or catch them on a radio station and they’ll likely be much more effective.
For the three people reading this that don’t know; Mr Lee Rocker is the (Upright) Bass Player in the legendary Rocking and Rolling, Rockabilly Superstars, The Stray Cats ! With that in mind, coupled to the cute cartoony Hep Cat album cover; there ain’t a lot more to tell you …… there ain’t a lot of surprises here; as Mr. Rocker treads a very safe; if still quite spectacular musical path on his first solo album since 2007. Why shouldn’t he? If it’s not broke; why fix it? The title track Gather Round is quite the kickstart to a mighty party; although more in the style of Eddie Cochran than his buddies in the Stray Cats, with Lee showing quite the singing talent; which appears to have lain dormant in Brian Setzer’s shadows for four decades. With gigs cancelled left right and centre, Mr and Mrs Rocker took the opportunity to criss-cross the US in an Airsteam; and that’s where most of these songs were written. One of the covers here is a suitably cool rendition of Everybody Wants To Be a Cat; from Disney’s The Aristocats; and do you know what? Lee Rocker makes it his very own in a swinging Dean Martin in a leather biker jacket kinda way. The slinky instrumental, Dirty Martini sounds like it would have been the perfect introduction to Dino coming on stage; or perhaps on the soundtrack to a Rat Pack movie. Lee Rocker’s party gets cranked up to the max more than once; with When Nothing’s Going Right and the salacious nod to the Rock n Roller’s of old; Dog House Shuffle being guaranteed floor-fillers at every gig it’s played at. But; the bass player also offers a bit of a sensitive side too, on The Last Online Lovers and, of course the rinky-dinky piano led Ophelia too. Choosing a Favourite Song here was a little bit easier than I’d expected; which isn’t meant to decry any of the other songs; especially the delightful love song Every Time I See You; but the prescient Graceland Auction takes a left field look at the way Elvis Presley’s memory has been desecrated by not just those around him who sold off everything from his alarm clock to his Cadillacs, but to some degree those who bought these things; as “Everybody wants a piece of The King.” All sung with a curled lip and edgy sneer ……… and it’s an absolute stonker! I’m only a casual lover of Rock and Roll in all of its guises; so don’t get angry with me for only just discovering Lee Rocker’s singing and songwriting talents so late in the day.
Well; it all seems to be going quite well with our Music Hour and it’s proving to be a bit of a success! As you will see this week’s episode is another groovy mix of Old New, Borrowed and Bluesy Americana and Roots Music. There are some brand new tracks, a couple from albums due out and some oldies too …… but; for me, most importantly we have our first Gateway Song from one of our favourite musicians; Stephen Fearing. For the foreseeable future we will be showing you the list of songs on the show (would you prefer it if we left it ‘as live’ and more exciting?) but I’m not telling you which song and album ‘changed’ Stephen’s musical leanings ….. you will have to listen … and learn.
Last Dance of The Night Country Heartbreakers And More.
While the band’s name Araluen pr: Ar-A-Loo-En may have made me think they were a bunch of lank haired Folkies; as soon as I knew this was a vehicle for Australian guitarist/songwriter Paul Lush, I knew that at least I was going to be interested in the contents herein. Paul Lush? He was a session player extraordinaire until he linked up with, first Alan Tyler of The Rockingbirds then one of our favourite bands of all time; Danny and The Champions of the World. Any reservations I had disappeared within the first 30 seconds of Into The Arms of Another; initially by the sound of Henry Senior’s wailing pedal steel geetar; but when Angela Gannon’s Dusty Springfieldesque voice sashayed out of the office speakers my knees actually went all wobbly. Even if this song was a one of a kind 45RPM single, it would be something you would cherish for a lifetime; more so if you were recently heartbroken (remember those nights in your lonely bedroom?) ….. but; it’s not even in the best 5 songs here …… it just gets better and better and better. Lush’s songwriting is a contemporary take on Classic Country and I’m not a million miles away when I mentioned Dusty; this is a bit like Dusty in Nashville without any over powering strings. Songs like Things I Wanted to Say To You, Killing Time and Never in The Moment are so tightly packaged, you can sense the heartbreak in every note and syllable that comes out of your speakers. Paul somehow manages to tap into genuine Country Heartbreak like so few have managed in the last twenty plus years; listening to Angela literally pouring her heart out on The Only Hearts Alive Tonight and Nice Idea At The Time you will conjure up images of Bobbie Gentry or Sandy Posey singing the words of Faron Young or …… dare I say it …. Willie Nelson in his early days. I dare you to sit on your lonesome one Saturday night and listen to It Was Real To Me and not find a salty tear fighting to get out of your eye …… try it, I dare you (even if you are in a solid relationship.) The band Paul Lush has assembled to support Angela Gannon’s vocals are truly exceptional; never flashy or boringly solid; they compliment her golden voice as much as they lift the songwriters words and arrangements into very lofty heights indeed. There’s even a rambunctious instrumental Oh Yeah! that gives the band a few minutes in the spotlight on a toe-tapper that throws The Shadows, Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins and Booker T Jones into a musical blender and come out the other side like a Country cherry-bomb. Wow; selecting a Favourite Song hasn’t been easy at all; mostly because every single song stand up and apart on its own measure; but a couple really have impressed me from Day #1. The opening song Into The Arms of Another was a shoe-in, of course; but the swoonsome And There It Is is the type of ‘last song of the night’ that we all love; but never hear any more. Which pretty much only leaves The Girl Will Do; swirling organ, searing pedal-steel, industrial strength bass/drums combo and Paul Lush’s intricate guitar flourishes all serving Angela Gannon very, very well as she shows a will of steel that only a woman can. Obviously, it’s fair to say I’ve fallen in love with this album; but so has Mrs. Magpie ……. which shows you the crossover appeal it has and will have; appealing to not just snobs like me but music lovers like my wife too.
When I review albums I try to imagine who will buy the album, why and what will they think. Using this formula had I been scanning through the racks of a record shop looking for something new, interesting and/or exciting; I most certainly would have picked this out of the Ska racks; as I fondly remember Zen Baseballbat from their days on the Moon Ska label too many years ago to mention. Now, if I hadn’t asked the shop assistant to play a couple of tracks; and why would I? I would have been not just shocked when Track #1 Whipping The Lash bounced out of the car speakers; but confused too. Not just not how I remember them; but NOT Ska in my humble opinion! Thankfully, I’m doing this for review purposes and have stuck with the album for a week now ….. and …… and …… I’ve got my head around these ‘re-mixed’ and ‘re-imagined’ songs from their back catalogue. Before we go any further we must remember that Ska came out of a number of different musical genres and has been an ever evolving feast ever since; so as long as there’s a Heavy, Heavy Bass line ….. it’s Ska … OK! This version of Whipping The Lash owes more to Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode than it does Rico or The Specials; but don’t be afraid …… it’s a real humdinger of a dance tune. Next up, Captain Midnight has more of a traditional Ska sound to it; but with that Electro-Pop backbeat and a Bass Line that feels like an Anthony Joshua punch to the ribs. If you’ve stuck in this far, you are in for some real unholy treats; Brown Cows of Elocution is a veritable modern Dub sensation and The Returner Prize totally dancetastic; which is what this is all about first and foremost; but listen to the lyrics and you your head will spin at the ‘piss n vinegar’ observations that haven’t changed in nigh on twenty years. Speaking of the songwriting; Signed Off R Mutt and the funklicious Masochistic Motown are both up there with the best of Madness and late period Specials; IMHO. For my Favourite Track it’s becoming a coin toss between Matching Houses; another song that sadly hasn’t dated even though I wish the back story wasn’t still relevent in 2021; and a Love Song with strings that wouldn’t be out of place on a Buddy Holly record; The Injection of Love (Is Wearing Off); and I’m erring on the side of the latter as perhaps, it’s easier on the ear ……. but listen carefully and there’s a dark thread in this tale too. With nothing to lose after all these years; this is still a very brave album for Zen Baseballbat to release; as it sounds nothing like anything they or their peers have ever released before; and for that I applaud them ……. and think they may even win a horde of new younger fans; especially across Europe. Zen Baseballbat are the Gleavey twins, Jordan Donaldson, Mike Wilkinson, Jogga, Anoushka Gleavey, Jane Anderson, Colin Mackay.