Another eclectic mix of all things Roots orientated; recent releases, Classics including an intriguing Gateway choice from Lauren Housley; and a few new Singles that close the show …… stick in there; as the finale from Maya Lakhani is a very important song about and for women of all ages and IMHO spawns the beginning of a new talent that crosses many genres.
Still Creating Sparks and Dreams After All These Years.
After a career totalling around 30 years and releasing a dozen or so albums you would expect a band with the experience of Teenage Fanclub to be able to deal with the loss of a valued member of the squad; and that’s just one of the many problems they had to handle on this album. Their answer? Stick as close as possible to the routines/systems that have worked for them and slot in the ‘newcomer’, Euro Childs, and produce an album that is undoubtedly Teenage Fanclub from the opening bars. The loss of Gerry Love after all those years has been overcome; and that’s a tribute to both the band and their former member. From a personal point of view TFC take me back to 1990/91, when I was trailing around record shops to secure their albums for my son (16 at the time and a very keen fan) as a birthday or Christmas present along with ‘Screamadlica’ by Primal Scream! Little did I expect both of these bands to be still knocking out albums 30 odd years later, but they are and they still do it with the same vigour as they’ve demonstrated each time I’ve seen them over the years. My customary review selections tend to be bands/artists on the way up; or with just a couple of releases under their belt; so this was a major challenge as I made sure I went back over a few of their albums to see what (if anything) had changed in addition to the personnel. The simple answer (although that does seem a bit condescending) is that we are presented with 40 plus minutes of what they do best – articulate lyrics, indie guitars and excellent rhythms that have stood them in good stead. The constants include of course the retention of Blake and McGinley who haven’t lost their songwriting expertise. I must admit that I am not a lover of lengthy openers so ‘Home’ at just over 7 minutes had me a bit concerned, although the vocals on the track are just typical TFC, followed by plenty trading of guitars. As a total opposite we then find ‘Endless Arcade’ comes in at just 3 minutes ‘don’t be afraid of this life’ , life being the endless arcade in the track. Sounds as though it could be a Luke Haines ‘new wave’ offering? The songwriting has been split between Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley and you never lose their ability to come up with well crafted and considered lyrics; although the album probably misses out on a real standout track/single, the closest being ‘The Sun Won’t Shine On Me’, backed up by some top notch guitar work. On ‘Living With You’ we get a very much from the heart plea that ‘it’s going to take a minor miracle but I want to be around and living with you’ while the final track ‘Silent Song’ slides in very gently ‘see what I want to see with my eyes’ and develops slowly into a very sad and soulful lament. A sign that the spark is still there. ‘In Our Dreams’ stands out as the track that couldn’t be by any other band; with the harmonies as good as ever and the heavier guitars picking up on a track that (in my view) just misses out on being an outstanding song, although I can’t put my finger on what is missing – it’s just a feeling I had. Overall, I think it’s fair to say that the majority of their fan base will be happy with this album, but I am not 100% certain that it will hit the mark with other listeners; but as I mentioned above, I just can’t decide what it is that’s the missing ingredient. I must stress that there are no poor tracks on here but it just lacks the few strong and outstanding tracks found on most of the Teenage Fanclub back catalogue. I understand that they are already planning another album, and it will be interesting to see how the new group will have developed/progressed before that is released – I am pretty confident that they will soon get back to their previous standards. It may not quite be to the high standards of previous releases, but being slightly below par is still better than most other groups.
Beautifully Blurring the Lines Between Folk and Alt. Country
This is another one of those “whoops I missed it” albums that come along every now and again. Originally sent to me at the turn of the year by a trusted PR but got lost in the swell of new albums in January; then last week Richard, from the band themselves got in touch; totally unawares of my oversight …… presumably like so many other musicians he won’t read the review; so will never know about my Faux Pas! First and foremost; this is the ‘other’ and apparantly ‘original’ The Wanted from Canada and not the Popsters from Ireland; so several of you might want to turn away now. If you’re still with me; you’re in for a bit of a rare treat; as this The Wanted, are actually very good indeed; treading the path that marks out Alt. Country and Americana albeit with that Canadian ‘edge’ and trademarked ‘cool’ that is s difficult to put into words. Opening track Way Down In The Hole has an urgency that I’ve not heard for a long time; with Natalie Rogers providing a breathy and almost breathless vocal performance worthy of The Ryman on a steamy Saturday night, and cohorts Jeff Rogers (guitar) and Richard Henderson (lap steel guitar) provide not just powerful musical accompaniment; but scary harmonies too …… hence; I’m in for the long haul. In the bio the band make reference to Michael Timmins’ production; which took them into new areas that the trio didn’t know they were capable of performing; presumably this means songs like Jeff Rogers’ Roadhouse blaster Miss Me When I’m Gone and the Twangtastic Rotary Phone; which both sound as if they are from a band steeped in Southern States swampy grooves; and the album is all the better for them. Timmins’ lightness of touch comes across on not just Natalie’s sad, sad crooning Stand Up and Weary Town Blues; and the harmonies on the latter might just send a shiver down your spine; but the slow and sultry Before The Fall, too. There’s even an angsty and steamy Lo-Fi song; I Guess; sung by Richard Henderson in a grizzled Levon Helm manner ; but no matter; it is a definite ‘keeper’ here. Although Track #1 Way Down In The Hole is apparantly a Tom Waits song; I’ve never heard it before; but the other ‘cover song’ is the ubiquitous Wayfaring Stranger; which is difficult to a bad version of but nonetheless a brave song to record, because of that and The Wanted certainly do it justice; using space to let the words breathe and Jeff Rogers’ intricate guitar picking to add extra pathos; as if it were needed, but works exceptionally well. For a Favourite Song I’ve been torn between the haunting title track Strange Flight; a dreamy duet between Natalie and Jeff, which couldn’t come from anywhere other than Canada in my humble opinion; and the other Fire & Gasoline, which by The Wanted standards is quite punchy; even erring on something of a Country-Blues tip; and again the Richards’ dry grizzled tones reminding me of Levon Helm; which has to be a good thing …… so that’s where the accolade finally rests (sorry Natalie!). Obviously we don’t have the capacity to review absolutely every album we receive; so some gems will sadly slip through the net ……. but I’m thrilled Richard got in touch after reading a review on the site; oblivious to me ignoring the album first time around …… don’t you make the same I made; try it then buy it …. you can thank me later.
Michael Johnathon The Painter Poet Man Records/Wood Songs
Portrait of an Artist by an Admiring Artist in a Night Cafe on a Starry Night.
This is a bit of an odd one; and a challenge too. Earlier this week I got into a bit of a ‘Twitter Spat’ about too many sites/publications sticking religiously to getting reviews out on or about the Date of Release; of which I am not just guilty, but proud M’Lud. In my defence I spend an inordinate amount of time promoting my reviews from across the years in my more bored moments; too. Why am I telling you this? It’s late April and this album was originally released in the US back in February; but as I’ve only just received it; presume it’s getting some kind of European Release soon …… but that doesn’t matter; as I just like it and want to tell you about it. Fair enough? Something else that would normally be against me spending my time here; is that it’s a tribute/song cycle to the artist Vincent Van Gogh and the effect he has had on the Artist in question. Personally, I’ve never liked Van Gogh’s style of painting; though always admired it; even going as far once, half a century ago as having a blazing row with my 5th Form Art Teacher half a century ago which led to a visit to the headmaster’s office. The opening track; The Painter openly steals the melody from Don McLean’s own Vincent; but Johnathon is quite open about that in the background story; and even closes the disc with his own rendition of that Classic song; and does it very well indeed. In between it’s a fascinating journey; with the gentle Folk Singer taking aspects of Van Gogh’s life and work turning them into fascinating songs that stand up on their own; like a beautiful sunflower (groan!). For instance Blues Tonight is a gorgeous tale that could just as easily be song about a weary love affair; but in context is a cornerstone that the many other layers are built on. Then, there’s the punchy Othello; a lovely song; and presumably about a work that the singer has done in the style of The Master; and yet again ….. Johnathon may be telling us that Artists of all persuasions can and do use, words, music, paints and clay to mask our inner feelings from the world ….. context is everything here. This is followed by a straight up cover of Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in The Cradle; which confused me at first; but is more than likely the singer’s own tale as told through Chapin’s eyes; and more than any other will make complete sense if used in any form of stage presentation ……. which will be well worth catching btw. It’s probably best not to take every song as ‘literal’ ……. Michael Johnathon is a Folk Singer after all; but his writing and storytelling is quite intriguing and articulate, that’s for sure; with Sunday Morning and its sublime banjo refrain being the type of song we’d normally associate with the likes of Don McLean himself as well as Don Williams; plus The Statement and The Journey both being in a similar vein; but with much more edge and pathos to the lyrics and annunciation. Perhaps he discovered it via Adele’s zillion selling version; rather than His Bobness’s original, Johnathon takes Make You Feel My Love on yet another journey of discovery with a lovely string section and delightful piano accompaniment; yet again getting me thinking that this combination is surely destined for some kind of Stage Production; and a successful one at that. BTW, the sequencing is as exceptional as the songs themselves; with that latter song being followed by a Folk re-invention of Blue Moon; and ending with; what else but Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) which; if nothing else reminded me what a great and undervalued songwriter Don McLean was/is …… and; what a wonderful voice Michael Johnathon has. I’ve deliberately missed one song; simply because it’s outstanding and therefore my Favourite Song here. Vincent In The Rain, which comes in at Track #2; and like so many others here, not just stands out as a really good song sung well on its own; but in context makes you want to hear (and feel) what is coming next and next and next; ad infinitum. Obviously a personal story to the writer/singer but one many of us will associate with in our own ways too. To some degree I’ve rushed this review; but that’s mostly because it has excited me in a strange way. Much like the work of Vincent Van Gogh, I shouldn’t ‘like’ this type of Smooth Folk Music; as I’m far too cool ….. but ….. but …… even the bright Artwork on the cover drew me in and ‘in’ I’ve stayed all morning and now feel I need to hear more of Michael Johnathon’s back catalogue and …….. God Forgive Me …… but buy a book of Van Gogh’s works!
# Now I’ve read the Press Release it appears Michael is actually planning to base a film based around these songs sometime in 2022! Watch this space.
Released USA February 2021 Released Europe April 2021
Intricate and Articulate Lo-Fi Americana That’s Perfect For the Big League
A lot of thought has gone into selecting this album for review as a) it’s my birthday today and b) it’s our 100th Album review of 2021; so I wanted something special ….. and this ticks every box in that respect. Doug Hoekstra (pr: Hoke-Stra) is something of a modern Renaissance Man; singer, songwriter, performer, poet, writer and most other things within the Arts and, it appears quite succesful in all modes. With all that, this is his first album in ten years; so ….. was the the wait worth it? For me? Yep ….. defin-ately ! As is oft the case the song title, Seaside Town intrigued me enough to play this above a few more ‘high profile’ releases a few weeks ago; and within 30 seconds I was absolutely smitten. Doug conjures up some incredibly sepia toned images in his dark and universal tale; and for a song steeped in hallmarked Americana gold; there’s also more than a hint of post-punk irony in the way the singer tells the story. Perhaps; and this happens several times here; Hoekstra’s worn and weary voice reminds me more than a little of Buzzcock, Pete Shelley; which is a damn fine thing at RMHQ. This lo-fi tone continues on track #2, the 7 minute + opus Higher Ground; which is the total antithesis of the Stevie Wonder song of the same name; as it’s dark, brooding, brittle and wearily beautiful in equal measures. Now I’m ‘into it’ Hoekstra’s songs and story telling are in a similar style to Elliot Smith and oddly enough; PJ Harvey; although less edgy and pissy than the latter. This isn’t entirely ‘easy listening’; songs like Late Night Ramble, Keeper of the World and Unseen Undetected (with some spookily wonderful cello playing btw) all need the listener’s time and patience; but as we are all grown ups I’m sure those who get that far anyway will be mature enough to do just that; and will benefit as the stories unravel like sudden silver strike in the Yukon. It’s obvious, early on that Doug Hoekstra has given up on chart success; but that plays right into our hands, doesn’t it? You, like me prefer our music to be deeply personal and articulate too; both of which our man does with great ease and grace too; not least on Wintertime or Carry Me and album finale Outside Looking In too; which may have been a perfect alternative title for this collection of gorgeous songs. Two songs in particular stand out for me; the David Olney inspired (I’m sure) Gandy Dancer being the most commercial sounding song here; is actually far from it when you listen carefully. I had to Google said title; and it then made the song make complete sense as the man Hoekstra is singing about goes to work on the railroads; doing raw manual labour ‘that is close to slavery‘ and only lasts barely a week; before returning home, tail between his legs; only to find …… cue a twist in the tale. Somehow this stonker is a weird Olney/Buzzcocks/Velvets/Zappa hybrid and well worth hunting out for your listening pleasures. The other; and now my Favourite Song is the delightful Grace; which is scintillating and tragically beautiful …… again sounding like Pete Shelly fronting a Velvet Underground offshoot; and will send a shiver down your back. Doug Hoekstra is not just a mighty fine singer, songwriter and storyteller; but the way this is sequenced and indeed; produced put it right up there with the Big League.
Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters Live From The Blue Moon Home Perm Records
A Live Set That Leaps Out of the Speakers and Grabs Your Attention from the Git Go.
If you -like many of us, have been missing live music of late, then Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters has a special treat for you. Recorded live on the Blue Moon Stage at the Oregon Country Fair during the summer of 2019, this set of country and Americana tunes literally leaps out of the speakers and grabs your attention from the git go. Ashleigh Flynn and The Riveters initially formed in 2018, releasing a fantastic debut album, and this live set is full of songs from that album as well as a few fun others and definitely bears repeated listens. Guitarist Nancy Luca, some wonderfully fun accordion by Jenny Conlee, a tight rhythm section in bassist Carmen Paradise and drummer Jolie Clausen, and backing vocalist Samantha Montanaro all perform with Rock ‘n’ Roll abandon; while staying true to the Alt-Country formula of Flynn’s songs and a couple of well chosen covers. Check out the first track; “How the West Was Won,” which retells all of those Cowboy tales from a more feminine point of view, and “Fly Away” which is pop country sweetness to die for! There’s even a Jump ‘n Jiving Country Stomp on “Deep River Hollow” (which also has some sweet harmonies!) and their lively cover of Buck Owens’ “Tiger by the Tail,” sounds like they are really ripping up the stage. “Big Hat, No Cattle” has a deceptively light-hearted approach while it skewers most likely a third of the audience that was probably in attendance the day it was recorded. Fearlessness is a true sign of a great songwriter, and Flynn delivers in spades; while her top-notch band takes no prisoners at all. You can call this music Country, Americana, or whatever you want, but the way the guitars bite, the drums pound, and the bass drives, I will say that this is some of the finest Rocking ‘n’ Rolling ensemble playing I’ve heard since the New York band Girls on Grass. Add to that some delicious accordion and fun and catty background vocals and this whole 45 minute set goes by way too fast. Ending the set is an exciting rave up of the Tom Petty classic “American Girl,” right after which Flynn ends the show by telling the crowd to come see them later ” …on the main stage!” and I guarantee if I was there I would have helped the band set up just to speed the act along, ready for more.
Review by the Legendary Roy Peak Released May 18th 2021
Mature, Gentle and Powerful Release From a Musical and Artistic Polymath
Known for his production work for artists such as Mary Gauthier, Amy Speace, Rod Picott and Kim Richey, Neilson Hubbard is very much a performer in his own right as a solo artist and only recently, a key member in the Orphan Brigade. That list of names is a good benchmark for the music contained on “Digging Up Scars” – it’s warmly produced, intelligent songwriting. The difference here with his previous work is the addition of textures – most notably pedal steel, some brass and strings, which sees Hubbard exploring similar sonic territory to Ireland’s Declan O’Rourke. “Our DNA” the opening track, is an exploration of connection and hope and it’s this examination of the universal and the personal and emotional which pervades the whole album. Sweeps of pedal steel and orchestral strings give the song even greater dignity and scale – and this is seen in even more grandiose style on second track “Where You Been?” Title track “Digging Up The Scars” is a discussion of self-revelation – both individually and in a relationship – but the core to this revelation has to be an acceptance of “who we are”. “Love Will Drown You in the Wake?” claims “you keep looking back over the shoulder” and is a late night rumination on time, nostalgia and love. “The End of the Road” skirts with similar notions of mortality and is musically more minor key but with a tonal and lyrical loving acceptance of that same mortality. “Fall Into My Arms” offers emotional consolation and is musically more upbeat too, whereas “Wide Eyed S” is an acceptance of a friend/lover’s need to spread their wings – again, the uses of strings add scale and scope to underscore the message. The most musically cheery number “Don’t Make Me Beg” is a good-humoured request for connection and support and its vibrant chorus supports message and mood. The musical and lyrical tone becomes more reflective on “Nobody Was Home” with its refrain of “lately I’ve been feeling alone” – the gentle but insistently catchy melody creates a beautifully melancholic mood. “Before the Moment’s Gone” is a carpe diem celebration, of living in the moment before the final track “Slipping Away” takes things out with quieter musings on the transient nature of things, backed by distant strings and warm, close-mic-ed vocals. Forthright confession here – on a first listen, this album didn’t immediately grab me, but with repeated listens, just like people used to say in the old days; it’s one that you have to “get into.” Neilson Hubbard is a detailed artistic observer and participant as his music, photography and production all show – horses for courses and for me, this is ideally best heard with a glass of your favourite tipple in a warm, candlelit room in order to explore the spaces between the dark and the light. There’s a lot of interesting sonic detail and the close, warm vocals act as the voice of a conversation with a close friend.
A Fantastic Change of Direction That Took in 4 Different Countries!
I am not sure if it has been just the luck of the draw; but I have had quite a few female artists to review in recent months. If it is, I should maybe consider doing the National Lottery as I seem to be striking oil with every one of them.
Splitting her time between Texas and Italy, singer/songwriter Vanessa, has taken 12 months to write, record and produce her latest album; and she can rightly be proud of ‘Modern Age;’ an album that has managed to overcome the numerous problems encountered during the pandemic. At the same time I certainly feel this a fantastic change of direction (and a successful one) making full use of her powerful vocals.
The title track bemoans the changes in the ‘Modern Age’ where we find the need to check our mobiles phones constantly; but it was designed too, as a protest song about the move from a relatively modern baseball stadium to a brand new one for The Texas Rangers! You live and learn.
Anyone who has bothered to read previous reviews will know I hate having to shoe-horn an artist into a genre; but with this change I feel Vanessa has entered, what I loosely refer to as ‘Indie/Country’ – the ‘Country’ bit could equally cover the fact they recorded this over 4 countries after being caught up in the COVID situation.
‘Crazymaker’ handles a toxic relationship with a strong guitar rock, that dovetails perfectly with Vanessa’s smooth yet powerful vocals; and is the first single from the album with a video shot during their Italy stay.
‘Hood Ornament’ sees her ‘all alone on the stage but she is labelled as the hood ornament’ – if performing was as easy as folks think then surely; ‘anybody could do it;’ while on ‘The Band Played On’ she decides they have to ‘play on’ in the hope the relationship will ‘turn the corner.’ It would seem that using the shipping analogy it was going to sink!! Probably my favourite track.
There is a jangly guitar feel immediately on ‘Never Really Gone’, a cracking poppy song delivered in a very catchy manner. Definitely a track to demonstrate her move ( on this album) into softer and more modern songs/arrangements that suit her new style perfectly well.
On ‘The Weight Of This’ Vanessa delivers another great vocal, a song that could easily have been dropped into albums from any of the current crop of female superstars; while ‘Yes’ is a slow and silky offering to deal with the constant need to say ‘yes’ in situations that probably warranted a different approach. Her anger comes through as we approach the end with the backing hitting the perfect level to stress the ‘lack of courage to put her real feelings to the test’. Vanessa Peters certainly does not like being treated as a ‘chick singer’!
Considering the trials and tribulations the band encountered at a very difficult time for all of us; and (especially) bands trying to produce an album I feel they should all be proud of their final product. In many ways this is a set that I would happily pay to see delivered in front of a live audience (remember music gigs? Apparently they are making a comeback!)
The final track ‘Still Got Time’ sees the band stressing that there is always the time to lose your inhibitions and to take control of your own situation. Something they have managed themselves very well in the production of this album.
Did my run of smashing albums from the female fraternity continue? Most Definitely!
Great vocals, great songs, great band – what more could you want?
Review courtesy Bill ‘Two Jabs’ Redhead. Released April 23rd 2021
Tom Craig has never looked back on music since receiving a guitar for his 11th. birthday. Formal coaching in jazz singing and then, completely immersing himself into the kind of blues that also embraces soul and R&B ensures that approximately 40 years later he has the perfect platform to showcase his undoubted talent. Good Man Gone Bad is the follow up to 2016’s critically acclaimed ‘Get Ready for Me’ and has the added benefit of being produced by harmonica ace Mikey Junior. Dave Gross not only plays Bass here; but is also credited with the mixing and mastering plus the band includes many of the top bluesmen in the Keystone State. Whilst Tom’s debut album was in a more Soul and R&B vein, this sophomore effort has a more defined direction planted firmly in the Blues with a capital B. “Working Too Hard” is the opening track and really sets the scene with it’s up-tempo beat, distinct riff and catchy lyrics. “What’s a Man Gotta Do” keeps up the splendid quality followed by the slower piano led title track “You Made a Good Man Go Bad,” where his jazzy vocals convey the sentiments of temptation followed by regret. What a start! Surely, Tom can’t keep up this standard? But remain listening and just like me you’ll discover that he most certainly can. “It’s All My Fault” is another slow song about love gone wrong; with its melancholy chorus of remorse; “I didn’t give her what she needs. When I saw the look in her eyes. that’s when I realised. That it’s my fault. It’s all my fault” Which will clearly resonate with many of us. The pace increases with “Sheepdog”, another song with a pleasing chorus featuring Mikey Junior’s harp and Eric Johnsons Hammond driving hard behind the clear vocal delivery. All of the 13 songs were written by Tom, with the exception of “When You Love a Blues Man” which he co-wrote with Mikey. No chorus to this, but three very memorable versus that kick off with “All the women I love are mad at me. I did nothing wrong as far as I can see. I’m just trying to do the best I can. That’s what you get when you love a Bluesman”. Neither the attention grabbing riff of “Headhunter” or the Robert Cray sounding “One Way Love Affair” or even “I like Soul in my Blues” with it’s funky horn section qualify as fillers in my book; all are here on merit. Fact is, quite a few of the tracks could have been elevated to being my favourite, indeed “Change my Way of Living” and the up-beat “Long Time Coming” came pretty close; then again my preference almost leant to the swinging shuffle of “Treat Your Daddy Nice” which kept all ten toes tapping in time from start to finish. However, along comes the final track on this splendid album that just wins the overall accolade of outright favouritism. “My Turn to Cry” has Bill Heid’s ivory tinkling with a subtle country vibe to compliment Tom’s sensitive delivery of some poignant lyrics “And when the storm tries to run my ship aground. I will find safe harbour in this peaceful sound. I’ll just have to be patient, right now it’s just my turn to cry. I’ll just have to be patient, right now it’s just my turn to cry”.
If you may be vacillating after reading the above review then why not take notice of John Nemeth, he states “Tom Craig is a bad man, enjoy his new record, I do.” That folks; is clearly in the modern vernacular; meaning the absolute polar opposite. Good Man Gone Bad is a genuine treasure of a discovery and Tom Craig should be seen as an artisan with tasteful, poetically inspiring lyrics, crisp, sometimes stinging guitar playing and his passionate vocals which certainly turns the title on it’s head, maybe it should read Good Man Gets Better and Better with every listen.
Jack Kidd “Messin’ with the Kidd” on lionheartradio.com