Tales of Criminality, Hopelessness and Memories, Translated into Verse
Recorded in his home studio in Phoenix, Arizona, during the 2020 Pandemic, Murder Mountain by Johnny Ironsights is an album of songs that burn like a fuse towards what you know is an inevitable destruction. Outlaw Country meets in your face Punk, tinged with an ash of slow burn Gothic-Americana. Less of a mash-up, more of a retooling. The title track, “Murder Mountain,” is a cinematic crime-infested story of isolationism and drugs. It would work wonderfully as a soundtrack to a film such as Winter’s Bone, and is perfect as the kick-off single for the album, yet my ears keep going back to “Three Nickels for a Pack of Smokes,” with it’s warm nostalgia and playful melody. “Before the Quake (Summer of ’95)” tells a tale of friendship, open mic nights, and teenage dreams. Nostalgia without the novelty. Ironsights’ voice, big and bellows-like, may be the closest Americana has to the rocker Meatloaf; a voice which envelops the songs, strengthening them, enriching them. Ironsights has big ideas and isn’t afraid to chase them in a song. True tales of criminality, hopelessness, memories, translated into verse. Fearlessness is one of the best tools a songwriter can have, and Ironsights knows it. In the closing song, “When I’m Gone, When I’m Dead” Ironsights exclaims “Like birds trying to fly with broken feathers,” and I wonder: Is he wishing or invoking? Drama is no stranger to popular music, as death has long been a part of folk music. Ironsights is doing an admirable job of keeping up the tradition. If I have any complaints about Murder Mountain it would be that Ironsights’ punchy vocals can get a little tiresome, and as much as I love a good pedal steel, it could use a rest on a few of these tunes (a bit meandering – ‘less is more’?) Yet Ironsights does have a way with words and storytelling that causes many of these songs to rise way past any perceived musical faults.
Review? The legendary Roy Peak Released March 5th 2021
Time is flying by; it’s the end of February and just as we can see light at the end of the Covid Tunnel here’s the 9th edition of the Rocking Magpie Music Hour. Plenty of brand new songs of course but some Classic and not so Classic oldies too; and this week’s Gateway Album; courtesy Robert Connolly Farr features not one but TWO wonderful songs from one artist in two legendary bands! The closing track this week comes from Kinky Friedman ….. his version of Lee Marvin’s (I was born under a) Wanderin’ Star; a song I played over and over again deeop into the night after my prostate operation; 6 years ago.
The Sound of a Bright Young Artist Finding Her Voice.
Roseanne Reid’s debut “Trails” had the full polish production job, but here with “Horticulture” she’s developed her own approach and sound on an EP self-recorded at home. Lead track “You Underestimate Me” was put out as a teaser single and its sharp, reverb drenched guitar and Roseanne’s direct close mic vocals give it a directness and urgency that leap out at the listener. “Tentsmuir Sky” which has also recently been released with an accompanying video is simple in idea, but superb in execution – finger-picked warm guitar and twangy leads. Cracklingly emotive vocals and soaring backing vocals for added dynamics, make an epic yet confessional sound. “Fly High,” which was new to these ears repeats the trick, but with added swelling strings. The beauty in this is also in its imperfections – squeaky string bends, room reflections all add to the humanity and warmth of the performance. “Passing through,” the other track of the four on the EP adds mandolin and harmonica to frame a picked guitar and front and centre vocal; and it’s simply exquisite. An all too-brief EP, but better to leave folks wanting more; as they say – this is the sound of a young artist finding her voice and putting it literally; and metaphorically front and centre. After all, an artist is the best person to know how the music in their head should sound – and Roseanne Reid is showing with the Horticulture EP, that she’s capable of being a multi-faceted threat on both sides of the desk.
When I was first approached about the possibility of a review for an unknown (to me) artist, Sarah King, I had to admit that the mention of an involvement with Simone Felice had me suitably intrigued. Having seen Simone more than probably any other act live over the last few years I felt this just had to be something worthy of at the very least a courteous listen. Was it a good decision? It was absolutely brilliant and just demonstrated that being ‘unknown’ isn’t a bar to an artist producing a superb little gem. I will stick it into the Americana genre although you could argue it is a Country set; but who is arguing over something so listenable. The story behind the EP is definitely sad and it certainly falls into the ‘artist bringing the sadness of her life into her music’ category. She was described as being an Americana artist to the ‘left of the mainstream’ and this EP (release date 19th March) will hopefully move her from the left to the centre! Quoting her influences as ‘bourbon and bad decisions’ she spent around 12 months kipping in a tent around the US and UK after the deaths of her dog, her mother and her first husband; but Sarah’s desire to get her music career up and running meant an email to Simone was the star in the sky to follow. ‘Nightstand’ was the track she sent to Simone and this story of revenge after physical revenge clearly wetted his appetite and it’s the ideal sort of track he would have in his repertoire. ‘Taking the gun from the nightstand to wait for the music to bury a body by.” ‘Not Worth the Whisky’ is another real tough track delivered in a sympathetic style that really suits her tough as teak delivery, whereas the opener ‘Poison’ is a beautiful song, with the background piano and drum trio offering the perfect level of support for a song to deal with ‘a man who won’t listen,’ – a clear reference to her very disturbed husband who suffered from PTSD resulting in his very sad suicide. Her dreams of music and his memories of the military life at opposite ends of the spectrum. ‘Cold Hard Ground’ moves along at a slightly faster pace although still delivering a story, and the need/desire to make amends for some past misdemeanours. ‘That’s what my momma told me’ was the way to go. The final song seems an unlikely choice; Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs;’ but stripped back to its raw sinews becomes the singers’ most intimate song, yet apparently it nearly missed the cut even though it meant so much to her after the suicide (see above). Could she have done anything to stop him? Could she have spotted the signs? The questions that probably still haunt a lot of US families after Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. There was at one stage an idea to cut ‘War Pigs’ from the finished article; and the music industry is littered with these last minute changes of mind; but this change of mind is really welcome for a true song from Sarah King’s broken heart. Definitely the dark side of Americana, but let me assure you this (to me) is a gem of an EP delivered, genuinely, from the heart. As we are approaching normality again after what seems an eternity., how about Sarah touring UK with Simone Felice sometime in the next 12 months?
Johnny Mastro and Mama’s Boys ELMORE JAMES FOR PRESIDENT Continental Record Services
A Trip Further Down the Dangerous Road Their Forefathers Ever Dared Travel.
This has been something of a conundrum; as I’ve played this more than any other album this year; mostly for fun too ….. but every time I’ve come to write up the review I’m stumped for what to actually say, for once. Here goes …….. The title track Elmore James For President kicks things off like a bottle fight on a Saturday afternoon at Craghead Vic. Mastro on vocals that make the Wolf Man sound effeminate and blowing a wheezing harmonica, he sounds like he’s circling the front row, daring you not to have fun while his band are menacing onlookers behind him. This the Blues boys and girls; but the kind your Mother didn’t want you listening to…..it’s scary. I know nothing about this band; but hope against hope they wear dark suits, well worn white shirts, skinny ties and have slicked back hair, with at least two; Mastro included wearing Wayfarers; even at night; or at least leather jackets and Doc Martens. Songs like Red Guitar, Rampart Street and The Bottle Won’t Save you are among the greasiest and nastiest music I’ve ever heard; and I’ve heard a lot ….. and when turned up to 10 in my Hyundai i20 makes it feel like a Camero fuelled on nitro! You just know that any band who can sound this raw in the studio are really, really gonna rip it up on a Friday night somewhere sleazy and smoky when they light the blue touch paper that will lead into The Bottle Won’t Save You, Little Freddie is King and/or Wildman Call, then just as you think you’ve escaped a kicking, they come at you again with the slow, mean and dangerous Like Marie Laveau; One More Time and the nearest thing here to an actual love song; See Me In The Evening. While Johnny Mastro and Mamma’s Boys can go further down the dangerous path that their forefathers ever dared travel; they can tease you with sweet, sweet riffs too; which is why Child Wolf has evolved into being my Favourite Track; taking a smidgen of Freddie King and adding it to a big portion of TS McPhee’s guitar gumbo then adding in some hot sauce from a sizzling bass/drum combo then at the last minute splashing on some hot sauce courtesy Mastro’s piquant harp playing and meaty singing style …… and no second helpings either. OK, this may not be an earth shatteringly new combination; and thinking back it’s a road I first encountered in the company of Captain Beefheart and have visited various times over the years via Dr Feelgood, JD Wilkes and of course Howlin’ Wolf’s back catalogue …… but as God is my witness, Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys kick up a ruckus as well if not better than any or all of them! This has gone straight into my Top Twenty Albums of the year file; and if I hear 20 better or more exciting albums this year I will be a happy; if surprised man.
Real Heartbreakingly Honest and Raw Native Americana.
An epiphany point in the life of Randy Lee Riviere, the man originally from Northern California but now residing in the Big Sky State, occurred when he decided to make an album using his real name, as opposed to his previous incarnation of Mad Buffalo. Not that there had been anything wrong with the former moniker, 4 albums all with a cast list of the very best musicians and producers containing songs with strong melodies and even stronger subject matters, eloquently delivered without any shadow of recrimination. Recorded at Grammy winning producer Kevin McKendree’s Rock House studio in Franklin Tennessee, Wyoming has 13 original songs that have the benefit of granite solid contributions from McKendree’s own undoubted keyboard and guitars skills, plus the talented multi-instrumentalist James Pennebaker. Add into the mix the renowned drumming of Kenneth Blevins plus David Santos on Bass and you have one very high class backing band. “I was initially drawn to producing this project because of the depth of Randy’s lyrics,” Kevin McKendree states. “He cares deeply about our environment, his family, Native American culture and the beauty of the Western land. His lyrics illustrate those things in a very moving and poetic way. The songs all have something ‘classic’ about them, though they are brand new. Randy made it clear to me that he wanted the music to paint a picture of the vast Wyoming landscape. I think we accomplished that.
Musically, I personally found it impossible to categorise and fit into any accepted genre (which is a good thing from my point of view). Lyrically the subject matters contain a fair element of frustration and angst. Ostensibly, Randy is a storyteller and a very good one, at that. Wyoming rightly kicks off with “Lots to Say” which has a chug-along tempo and Randy declaring “I know what I need to do” complimented by the chanted chorus of several “whoas” and Pennebaker’s sweet pedal steel. “Our Town” slows things down with Randy pleading “why tear it down, this old town, it’s got worn down. This is our town, don’t let them bring it down”. Throughout, there is a good balance between the up-tempo and slower numbers, nicely sequenced, ensuring musical variety. Further good examples of the ballad types are the very melodic “Fences”, “What I Want” with more great pedal steel and then some beautiful fiddle on “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Of the more upbeat tracks “Keep Your Eyes on Your Station” has a catchy refrain of “get your mind off vacation”, “Break my Heart” contains some Keith Richards type power chords and stinging electric guitar solos from Kevin. However, there’s a very special resonance with “Boys” which has young Yates McKendree guesting on terrific lead guitar. Randy wrote the song about his own children, so getting McKendree Junior to illustrate how the musical DNA flows to the next generation is a masterstroke in making family connections. In “Red Rain”, which has some gentle piano and sensitive mandolin, Randy recollects time spent with his Grandpa and his tales referring to a Native American boy who lives through so many changes, eventually ending in horrific violence, at the historic Battle of the Little Big Horn, a hard rain ….. indeed a Red Rain. It was tough deciding which was my favourite track, whilst I liked the piano & pedal intro to “Morning”, and the opening lyrics “Hey misty dawn, tell me when are you coming home” I kept coming back to “Riverdale” with it’s punchy guitar licks and the repeated lines of “All I have has gone for sale, there ain’t no river in Riverdale” culminating in an apt definite, musical dead end. The album actually concludes with the title track, a soulful, meandering instrumental that allows all the musicians to shine. Kevin McKendree has, yet again, completed another very fine job producing an obvious set of well written songs without ever letting the instrumentation to over-ride the prose. However, for me, inviting his long time friend James Pennebaker to sprinkle his ‘pixie-dust’ on numerous stringed instruments is what magically brought the songs to life. Forget the usual, banal lyrics of lost love and drunken rejections, there’s no baby done left me or dog dying in any of these compositions. Randy Lee Riviere has dug deep, his consciousness empathetically highlighting the stupid, illogical, irrational decisions made by man in the misguided pursuit of the dollar bill at the inevitable cost, not just to the land but sadly to all of us, as mankind.
Jack Kidd “Messin’ with the Kidd” on lionheartradio.com
A Favoured Side-Man Effortlessly Moves Into The Spotlight.
Even though this album isn’t released until later in the week; I appear to be ‘late to the party;’ as all of the cool kids and influencers in our little world have been going absolutely bonkers for this debut release from *Son of Northumbria (Whitley Bay to be precise), KB Bayley in the last few weeks. To some greater or lesser extent; not knowing what to actually expect, the atmospheric Dobro and sleazy slide guitar intro to track #1 Cold Rain; probably led me to expect something of a Bluesy number; but no…. no …and indeed no; KB is a lot of things; and much of it may even be influenced by Americana; but a Blues Singer he ain’t. Or is he? When you hear his weather worn, yet velvety voice pouring his heart out about a lost love while standing in the Cold Rain ‘waiting on a slow train, coming down the line,’ who’s to argue that a pasty white boy can’t sing the Blues? Not me; that’s for sure. First and foremost this is a Singer-Songwriter album with an intrinsically British slant to it, somewhere in the grand tradition of Ralph McTell and more recently Chris Difford and Ben Glover (who adds backing vocals to one song here). Most every song is so full of minutiae and intimate detail; it’s like listening to 4 minute kitchen sink drama on the radio, played out to a silvery intricate musical backdrop. You’d never believe that these songs were recorded at home on second-hand equipment; but that somehow adds to the pathos in Throw It In The River and North Shore Road with Bayley’s exquisite finger-picked guitar playing sounding like it’s your heart strings that are being plucked at the same time as a mournful harmonica gently cuts through like a winter breeze. I need to jump back to track #2, the titular Little Thunderstorms because I was listening to another track a few minutes ago and just felt the urge to go back and listen more intently, to this darkly poeric and almost Gothic Folk song. I was correct; Bayley’s storytelling really does raise the bar for his peers out there; gently leading us towards an approaching cliché; then KERPOW – he hits us with lines and observations that bely his tender years. This happens again and again; with Time to Leave Town and Cray About Me being prime examples; lines springing to mind when I least expected it over the last week or so. Bayley includes a striking and powerful instrumental towards the end; Wayfaring Stranger (Redux) ….. part Ry Cooder, part Welsh Celtic and a nod in the direction of the Northumbrian Hills combine to create a piece of music that just begs for a wise Film Director to use it in a Murder Mystery set in some dark hinterland. There’s a delightful starkness about this recording; which obviously comes from the claustrophobic conditions imposed by Lockdowns I through III; but don’t think that this is a one man band; it’s not. Although Bayley plays numerous instruments, other musicians have added their very own golden musical threads at a later date, bringing an added texture and occasional warmth to everything here; so thanks must got to Backing vocals from Claudia Stark and Jim Cozens: pedal steel from Charlie Jonas Walter (of bluegrass duo Jonas and Jane), electric guitar from Backwoods Creek’s Dean Parker, and chorus vocals on ‘Blood Red Lullaby’ by Proper Records artist Ben Glover. That latter song; Blood Red Lullaby starts with an AM radio announcer then bleeds into a really tightly constructed bittersweet song about how memories; be it on a global scale like those we have for JFK but more pertinently, family and friends taken too soon, effect us in more ways than are always inherently obvious at the time. For my Favourite Track it has been a bit of a conundrum; as the David Olney film Noir influenced (?) Night Dogs stands out like a raw, bloodied sore thumb and will live with me for years to come. But; me being a sucker for a Love Song, I’ve been drawn back to North Coast Girl several times, as I am a Northern Boy married to a North Coast Girl; and Bayley’s cold and haunting tale is right up there with the very best of its genre. Is it about a Lover, a Mother or a Fantasy Figure? It’s not clear and therefore will make you want to draw your own conclusion ….. then change your mind ten times in ten minutes. I suppose someone much wiser than me will know who Cheap Suit is about; but I don’t …… (is he the Father to the Mother of North Coast Girl?) but this tragic tale is so excruciatingly extraordinary and Bayley’s use of the soft vibrato in his own voice, alongside some carefully selected instrumentation; beautifully captured for posterity, is quite easily my Favourite Song here by a million miles. I have very little background information about KB Bayley; save he’s been a side-man to some of my favourite singer-songwriters over the years; but with this release I think those days are over ……. the spotlight surely beckons for a talent that has lain hidden for far too long.
*Son of Northumbria …… while he moved down South as a child and has spent a lot of time on the windswept Norfolk Coast; I’m still claiming him as ‘one of ours‘!!!
Overnight Sensations Again After 30 Years in the Wilderness?
An album that has been 30 years in the making for, for one time ‘overnight sensations.’ After releasing the first track on this album as a single towards the end of 2020, Bradford (oddly enough from Blackburn!) effectively re-announced their arrival (or return) to the music arena and an arena totally different to the one they left 30 years ago. Back then, they were lauded by the likes of Morrissey as ‘a band of the future,’ and with tours in support of Mr. Morrissey and Joe Strummer things looked bright, before that light was extinguished with the burgeoning Manchester scene. Bradford, like the town, lost their aura and had to disband in 1991. Roll on nearly 30 years and a collection of around 30 songs appeared – a ‘lost English classic’ some said; and this had the effect of re-lighting that late 80s fire and the result is the worthy effort of ‘Bright Hours,’ and a new line- up to take up the baton yet again. Deciding to issue an album was brave, but to re-create songs written 30 years ago was even braver, but the revised line-up and the re-arranging of the various tracks has produced a very good stab at getting back into the groove. It is hard to envisage how much time was spent in poring over the material and deciding how to alter arrangements that would retain their individuality, but at the same time, keep the Bradford ‘sound’ – they’ve made a more than passable attempt to marry the old and new together. ‘Like Water’ is a perfect choice as the opener, as it catches the flavour of their history perfectly as ‘water just drifted away through the cracks’ in the same manner as their 1990 hopes and dreams. Vocally, I think it’s fair to see that these suggest an older band; one with a few miles under their belt. Founding members, Ian and Ewan have been joined by producer Stephen Street and the chemistry between the three is highlighted on some very catchy and well crafted tracks both musically and lyrically. With your eyes shut you can imagine some of these being sung by a more mature Small Faces or The Coral. On ‘My Wet Face’ they deal with the ‘need to hang onto things you love,’ while ‘This Week Has Made Me Weak’ is a superb track where their harmonies fit well into a song dealing with the travails of getting through a 7 day week, with each day allocated a specific identity. Regardless of the individual days the sum total is to be weak after the week ends. A couple of the tracks work well as they suit Ian’s voice (‘Bright Hours’) and certainly wouldn’t be out of place on a set by more recent and, dare I say it …. younger bands. Ian delivers the lines with a minimum of fuss and I did wonder how well they would have done if they had been able to ride out that 1991 year. ‘Feathers In The Fire’ has a hint of an Indie-Folk track and would certainly slot into the sets of several modern North West bands, but one of the highlights for me is the gruff delivery of ‘The Rowing Boat Song’, imploring that ‘you keep your seat on the hard wooden seats.’ A bit like their own story where you try to hang on to what you have got. It would have been interesting to hear the original productions and arrangements; and to compare them to the finished article and I definitely felt that ‘Gave A Time’ had benefitted from the changes, as Ian offers a soft and occasionally strangulated vocal on a gentle song. The album got my usual two or three full listens and I can honestly say it grew on me with each hearing. The penultimate track ‘I Make A Fist’ could easily have been on a Richard Hawley album and the more I listened the more I enjoyed it. I am realistic enough to know that this won’t be a big seller, but I hope that enough folks listen to it and enjoy it for what it is. An album that has survived the test of time in the real sense of the word.
Review by Bill Redhead Released February 19th 2021
Here we go with our 8th Music Hour podcast ……. the usual something old, new and Blues including three new tracks from Johnny Mastro, Sara Petite and KB Bayley; some rocking Blues from Big Harp George and Wily Bo, and loads of cool Roots music via Sarah Shook, Eve Selis and Danny & The Champions of the World. Shipcote who who co-hosts the Jumping Hot Club in Newcastle had his 60th birthday this week; so we played his Mr Wonderful track as a treat FROM ME TO HIM; FROM HIM TO ME!. The Gateway song comes from RMHQ writer Roy Peak who selected Patti Smith! Stay safe ….. wear a mask.
The Benchmark for What Country Rock Should Be About in the Mid-21st Century.
I was 99.9% sure I recognised Sara’s name, so checked through my old reviews ….. nothing; so checked out the hard drive …… nothing ……. then rang Graham Anderson who runs the Jumpin’ Hot Club….. nada; he’d never heard of her either. But by this stage I was already hooked and had the album on heavy rotation in the RMHQ office and my car too. Why the fuss when you listen to so much music; you may well ask. Take a quick listen to opening song Feeling Like an Angel and if this innocent looking young lady from San Diego out of (the other) Washington, doesn’t just break your heart, but win it over like you’re a hormonal teenager again; then you are reading the wrong review. Sara has a distinctive and very individual set of vocals; which somehow sounds like the offspring of Bobbie Gentry and Tom Petty filtered through Ashley McBryde who was singing Kitty Wells songs at a party hosted in Janis Joplin’s honour. The song itself; and the haunting backing from her band are as sure to break your heart as kitten video on YouTube will. As the band kick up some trail dust on the next song Runnin’; the only thing missing is Sarah purring, “Are you ready boys?” as an intro. Twang guitar? Pedal-Steel? A bass that sounds like the strings are covered in rust and a drummer who can shake the foundations when necessary, but keep time like a Swiss watch at others? What’s not to like? Add them to Sara Petite’s introspective, heart-rending and Insurgent Country power-ballads like Missing You Tonight, Floating With the Angels and the hip-hop inspired, tear jerker, Working on a Soul and you have the benchmark for what Country Music should be about in the mid-21st Century. I’d love to think that I will see Sara blasting out The Misfits and/or Crash, Boom Bang at the CMA’s or the Ryman one night; but will be more than happy to be in a jam-packed Cluny in downtown Newcastle one hot and sweaty Friday night; and you will too. I’ve got a horrible feeling that Sara Petite will be deemed ‘too Country’ for Country Radio and the CMA’s etc. so with songs like Medicine Man and the sublime Keep Moving On, in her bag, let’s claim her for Americana, Country Rock and/or Alt. Country because she’s a keeper. When I first played RARE BIRD, the rambunctious and anthemic Scars stood out; not least because of the opening power-chords which are immediatly toned down for Ms Petite to opine; “I’ve got Scars I wear my tattoos on my heart Imprinted little lessons like a tortured work of art.. Scars Some are rough and some are faded.“ Man o’ Man; this is ‘one of those songs’ that you will come back to years and years in the future, be you man, woman or whatever …… but one lonely night, it will come back and haunt you like a dear departed loved one. Trust me here; if this song did come on the car radio; you would have to pull over to the side so you could hear it unencumbered then scramble to find a piece of paper to write her name down on …… then missing your appointment drive straight to a Record Store to buy it. For once I can’t say it any better than a quote on the accompanying Press Release; Sara is as American as apple pie and Harley Davidson. She is gritty, she is wild, she is tender with a soul of a child. I will leave the last words to Sirius Outlaw Country Radio DJ Mojo Nixon ….. “Sara Petite can sing a buzzard off of a slop wagon!”