Elles Bailey
Shining in the Half Light
OutLaw Music

A Soulful yet Gritty, Radio-Friendly Release Worthy of Very Big Things.

Hard working Bristol-based singer Elles Bailey has already won plenty of plaudits for her first two albums and dynamic live performances; and this third release seeks to build on that base.
In the times of COVID, Elles has not only managed to cram in a whole tour, but she was listening to mixes of this release in hospital on the day that she gave birth!
So, unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of cathartic release of energy and emotion on this release.

Personally, the Blues is a bit Marmite for this listener – it’s when it veers away from the obvious blueprints that I find it more satisfying, whether that be in the arrangements, vocal timbre, or genre-mixing – and thankfully, there’s evidence of all these things on “Shining in the Half Light”

“Cheats and Liars”, the opener is a chain-gang stomper given a futuristic update with thudding bass and percussion and soaring backing vocals – it has enough edge to satisfy the roots-rock weirdos out there, but at the same time, it’s polished enough for radio-friendliness too.
Following track “The Game” contains the line “always dance to the beat of my own blues” – it’s a more conventional Blues-Rock groover, but the playing and vocal versatility lift it several notches above your average workingman’s blues.

“Stones” adopts a slower pace and features duelling lead and guitar with soulful call and response of “Don’t throw stones”.
Things really leap into the stratosphere for me though, on the fourth track, “Colours Start to Run” where Bailey’s songwriting and voice move beyond Dusty Springfield badass territory – huge credit to producer Dan Weller who’s managed to create a great big, warm and gritty sound.

The more soulful side of the album is continued on “Different Kind of Love” where bass and keys provide embroidery to Bailey’s immaculate vocal – there are no show-off histrionics, just a flawless dedication to the song at the core of the performance.
The 60’s slow groove is further developed on “Who’s That?” – the production dynamics on this track are a lesson to any budding engineers/producers – there’s so much going on, but it’s all sculpted and crafted beautifully around the central delivery of the melody – it’s one of those things, that as mentioned earlier, lifted this above the expectations of the genre.

The tempo lifts again with the Tom Petty name-checking “Sunshine City” which has very much a Tina Turner groove and feel, before “Halfway House” starts with its acoustic guitar and lead vocal before being accompanied by power vocal backing from Andrusilla Mosely and Jade Elliot, building up to a subtly anthemic climax.
It’s again ‘radio-friendly’, but with a power and grit that belies that loaded phrase.

It’s back to a mid-tempo Memphis feel with “Riding Out the Storm”, written with guitarist Joe Wilkins and its philosophical “can we ride out the storm?” message. T
The title track, Shining in the Half Light, co-written with Nashville’s, Craig Lackey draws the album to its ten-track close via a reflection on living through screens in the world of lockdown, and it works on several other relationship and political levels too – musically it’s more on the funkier side of Rock side and the blues spectrum; with crawling bass and plenty of phased guitar underscoring the narrative.

Who knows; but after putting in all that hard graft over the last 15 years or so this may be the album to make Elles an ‘overnight sensation!’

Review by Nick Barber

Released 24th February 2021



John Mayall
The Sun Is Shining Down
Forty Below Records

After Over Half a Century The Grandee of The Blues Can Still Manage To Surprise The Faithful.

John Mayall is very definitely a Living Legend of, not just the British Blues scene; but world wide too; yet apart from ‘The Beano Album’ I kinda guess 99% of Blues fans couldn’t name another album in his 60 year career.
Which is as much a shame as it’s sad.
I’m in the 1%, as I can name two others; apart from this … his umpteenth release; and a doozy right from the off; with the sizzling and Soulful Hungry and Ready ….. which will have your toes a’tappin and head a’noddin right from the first few bars …. and they won’t stop until the fabulously slinky title track, The Sun Is Shining Down closes proceedings in Mayall’s trademarked fashion.
In between covers a couple of fabulous songs I wasn’t aux fais with; Bernard Allison’s stupendous Chill’s n Thrills, Roosevelt Sykes slow and funky Driving Wheel and Bobby Rush’s I’m As Good As Gone, which features some stunningly cool guitar licks from Buddy Miller alongside Mayall’s leathery and world weary vocals.
After spending the best part of half a century living in the USA Mayall’s ‘sound’ now owes a lot more to Chicago and New York than it does the English Home Counties; and that comes across in not just the previously mentioned tracks; but his own Masterworks Can’t Take No More plus the cool ambiance of Deep Blue Sea and especially the former, when his brass section sound like the Memphis Horns on steroids.
I’d not heard of Tinsley Ellis before last week when I reviewed his own latest album; and here Mayall takes his A Quitter Never Wins and turns it into the type of slow and swoonsome Blues we expect from a mash up of Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King and Little Walter.
Then; there is the slick One Special Lady, which even on an album of this quality still stands head and shoulders above the rest with Mayall’s Hammond B3 holding the piece together like Jimmy Smith or Georgie Fame at their combined height; and ‘that’ guitar isn’t actually a guitar ; it’s Jake Shimabukuro playing an electric ukulele; which is a first for me …. but WOW!
Of course there are some Guest Star guitarists here complimenting not just The Grandee himself; but his #1 guitarist, Carolyn Wonderland too; but this isn’t about them … this is a simply and collectively a John Mayall album in all its and his Glory.
Technically and morally it’s wrong on many levels to be surprised by an album when it comes from someone with a pedigree like John Mayall; but we’ve all spent hard earned cash on releases by similar acts over the years and been left hugely disappointed; but trust me here ….. even if this is your first or fortieth album of his; you too will be surprised by the depth and quality on offer from start to finish …. and it will be a Keeper.

Released January 28th 2022



Sean Taylor
The Beat Goes On
Self Release

Grown Up Songs To Not Just Touch Your Heart; But Squeeze the Very Life Out Of It.

I have to confess that when I first received this album I was thinking of a completely different singer-songwriter with a similar name; so it lay unplayed in the middle of an ever growing pile of review CD’s.
Then a timely reminder from Sean’s PR and a message from the photographer responsible for the photos on the sleeves (none other than our very own Nick Barber!) guided me back to the CD.
Straight away I realised I’d been thinking of the wrong person; as Taylor’s world weary rasp, a haunting soprano sax and the simple, yet moody arrangement of love song based around ‘hope’ had me totally enthralled.
Now I’ve played the album a few times I’m left captivated and devastated in equal measure.
‘Captivated’ because I was left sitting in awe each time I heard the intricate Nowhere To Hide, Stay With Me and the tragically beautiful Lament For The Dead; as each transcend what we think of as British Folk Music or anything of a similar ilk …… which brings me to the ‘devastated’ part ….. as Sean is British it’s highly unlikely that the trendsetters of the national press or radio will let you hear them; favouring; as they do forgettable Americans and has-been pop stars topping up the pension pot.
If I didn’t know any better I’d have thought Taylor was one of the ever burgeoning crop of excellent singer-songwriters coming out of Northern Ireland; as like them he effortlessly fuses Blues, Jazz and slivers of Soul alongside the traditional elements of Folk into his songs; making the smoky Nowhere To Hide, Better Times and the title track The Beat Goes On not just timeless, but without any natural borders too.
I was impressed to find Sean Taylor having the expertise to close the album with the epic The Heart of The Ocean; which again has a Celtic tinge to it’s melody and the way the singer almost whispers his words too.
Just to prove that he’s not just a ‘one trick pony’ Taylor drops in a rather beautiful instrumentals the almost Classical Nocturne, which finds him alone at the piano; and on Be My Love in The Rain he introduces us to the poetry of Robert Frost via a delicate piano led song that simply and delicately oozes intricate musicality.
For a couple of days I was convinced that Taylor’s ode to the troubadours love of touring; the Americana drenched Back On the Road; was my Favourite song here; then yesterday the slightly spooky Nowhere To Hide caught my attention; and the same has happened today with the melancholia of Let Kindness Be Your Guide not just touched my heart but squeezed the very life out of it …… ‘right place/right time.’
Several times recently I’ve used the term ‘Grown Up Music’, and again; I can’t think of a better way to describe this overall album ……. the songwriter had had to have lived a full life to be able to write such songs; and the listener the same to understand them and ‘get’ them.

Released December 2021



Hollis Brown
In the Aftermath
Cool Green Recordings

An Energetically Reverent Yet Reinvented Take on the Stones US “Aftermath” Release

Why cover versions?
Well, I suppose there are several reasons, but the main two are probably the two “R”s – reverence (a love for the original) – and reinvention – to build something new .

Hollis Brown’s “In the aftermath” takes a dip into the Rolling Stones’ back catalogue and they cover the complete US release of “Aftermath”.
For UK listeners and some fans outside the US, several of the songs appeared on subsequent releases – and in a different order – but this album follows the order of the US release.

Opener “Paint it Black” errs more towards the “reverence” camp – it’s not a huge shift from the style and tone of the original, but is still a good opening attention grabber.
It reminds me very much of the Chocolate Watch Band in its energetic US take on British R’n’B.

“Stupid Girl” picks up the original tempo but loses some of the keyboards – vocally it’s transposed into a Cheap Trick/Jellyfish pop-rock take; and is a much tighter rhythmic performance than the original -again, there are undercurrents of a 60’s Garage Sound and it gives it a punkier drive.
This is followed by the more laid back version of “Lady Jane”, which has a less staccato guitar riff and a less affected and more soulful vocal than Jagger’s original – it’s a more fully realised (and far better produced) version of the song, but loses some of the quirkiness of the original.

“Under My Thumb” is up next – there’s a great gritty soulful vocal carrying this version along – in terms of backing, the soulful drums are still there, but it doesn’t quite have the Northern Soul feel of the Wayne Gibson early cover of the same song – this one’s very much in Mitch Ryder territory, so not straying too far from the Northern Soul heartlands, however.

“Doncha Bother Me” shares the same Beach Boys “California Girls” groove, but where the production on the Stones’ version showed how it was close in influence to old Blues players, this take is given more of a Texas blues feel – a bit of saturation on the harmonica and vocal adds a bit of welcome dirt too.

“Think” – the soulful core of the original is shifted to become more of a psychedelic garage band blues – again, the playing is much tighter than on the original (having seen both the Stones and Hollis Brown I can vouch for how tight a unit the latter are – and the Stones have always been notoriously sloppy as part of their appeal) and there’s a speedier energy which Hollis Brown tap into, but it takes the song subtly to a different sphere of influence than the original.

“Flight 505” is a heads down no-nonsense mindless boogie – the original was lyrically and musically very much out of the Chuck Berry playbook -the Stones gave it a bit more swing, whereas this Hollis Brown take is straighter in its rhythmic timing and the vocals are more polished and dynamic.

“High and Dry” doesn’t have the annoying hi-hat of the Stones’ original but has a great thumping bass and kick drive and in my humble opinion it’s a far better realised version of the song than the original – don’t shoot me – I really like this take! Harmonica and boogie piano are mixed well and there’s a great rhythmic feel to this.

“It’s Not Easy” is the closest that the album comes to a Jagger vocal pastiche, but that’s more in the phrasing than the vocal timbre – imagine if ‘stadium Stones’ had recorded this first time around and this is something like what you’ve got here.
“I Am Waiting;” on the contrary removes Jagger’s mockney/cockney tones and it’s all the better for it to these ears – maybe that’s a class-based UK listener judgement, but Jagger sounded a bit Mary Poppins-Dick Van Dyke on the original in my opinion (stands back and awaits the flack).

Things end, as the original US release did, with “Going Home” – it’s probably the free-est, most swinging cover on the album and it reminded me of prime time Replacements – another band whose looseness and swing was part of their appeal – and there’s a bit of the Faces in the honky tonk piano too.

So- reverence – or reinvention?
There’s definitely some of both here.
Hollis Brown are a tight unit and they understand the spirit and the core of these songs.
Modern production can sometimes lose the timbre of the original recordings, but Hollis Brown make up for that with a precision and energy that adds layers of garage band punkiness and soulful tightness and grit to these songs.

Review by Nick Barber
Release date: February 4 2022



Hollis Brown
In The Aftermath
Cool Green Recordings

British Blues Album From ’66 Re-Imagined as Alt.Americana for 2022.

Hollis Brown is a Queens, New York Alt./Americana band who have been around for a quite a while now, and once released a tribute album to the Velvet Underground’s 1970 album Loaded.
Keeping with that theme, the band decided to this time tackle the Rolling Stones and their first album of all-original songs, Aftermath, from 1966.
I have yet to hear their variant of Loaded, but do plan to real soon.
The Hollis Brown version of the Stones isn’t perfect, but definitely surpasses most bar-band rave-up versions with their clarity and punch.
Recorded in one single 24-hour session, live in the studio, singer-guitarist Mike Montali, lead guitarist Jonathan Bonilla, bassist Chris Urriola, and drummer Andrew Zehnal stayed focused enough to finish up and get out before they screwed anything up with a too-long and unneeded overdub session.
The mix is part 90’s big drum sound, part 21st Century clarity; making it very smooth with just enough angularness to keep it real.
Foregoing the obligatory sitar on Paint it Black, (One of the Stones’ darker songs —How the hell was this ever a hit in the bright and sunny mid-sixties? But it was!) they make do with heavily chorused guitar and a heavier beat which tells the listener right away that this album is going to rock no matter what.
Stupid Girl keeps it simple, while Under My Thumb takes a few chances that work, mostly through Zehnal’s rolling tom fills and consistent snare and Bonilla’s bent-note solo.
Lady Jane didn’t wow me at first, but on second and third listens I discerned some careful phrasing in Montali’s vocal and nice guitar work by Bonilla.
The band does a great job with the bluesier numbers like Doncha Bother Me and High and Dry, without copying the Stones too much.
They make up for lack of a Keef and a Mick by playing to their bar band roots. I Am Waiting finds the band turning the song on its head with some guitar reminiscent of the Allman Brothers.
The pastiche-sixties numbers like Think and Flight 505 are more routine, but It’s Not Easy sounds like it could have been written and recorded by any Americana band worth their weight in cheap booze; and was my choice for best song here until I heard the closer, Goin’ Home.
This one opens up with a softly strummed tremolo guitar before a Lazy Sunday morning beat transports us to a place where only harmonica fills and rollicking pianos and loose tambourines and overdriven geetars can save your soul.
Seven minutes of this could get tiresome from most bands out there (Including several from 1966, when this album was originally recorded.) but Hollis Brown don’t hold back.
This is the one song here where the band shines outstandingly as though they’ve finally realized that, even in the confines of a studio, they can still find a way to take flight and soar.
You know—turn up the amps, wail … and scream a bit!

Review by the legendary Roy Peak
Release date: February 4 2022


Bobby Allison and Gerry Spehar DELTA MAN

Bobby Allison & Gerry Spehar
Delta Man
A Countrypolitain Road Trip Without Leaving the Gulf Coast.

For two singers who have been on the Circuit ….. several circuits actually, for nigh on 50 years neither I didn’t think Bobby Allison nor Gerry Spehar had crossed my radar; although both names kinda ring bells for me ….. so I checked back; and sure enough back in 2017 I reviewed I HOLD GRAVITY by Gerry Spehar and described it as; “Gorgeous and Timeless Laid Back West Coast Country”.
Now, DELTA MAN is something of an oddity it seems; as it’s a culmination of songs the couple have recorded together on each other’s albums in that time ….. a retrospective in all but name; if you will.
So without delving to deeply into each historical circumstance; let’s just take the music for what it is …. a brand new album for 99% of the population.
Things don’t get much more Countrier than opening track Kinda Like Love; a Cowboy meeting the love of his life in a HonkyTonk; and I absolutely loved it right from the get go; and that bottle neck guitar will send a shiver down your spine too.
To some degree you’d expect the duo to have evolved over the years and dabbled in a variety of styles; and you’d be correct with excursions into slow and sleazy, Western Swing via Just Relax, Country Pop (?) on Money, dark Country Blues on Eye of The Needle and raucous Rockabilly fuelled Honky Tonk with Bubba Billy Boom Boom and Me and back again to good ole downhome Country with The Good Life and 25 Miles to Brady.
In between the duo take us on a bit of an Americana road trip without ever really leaving the Gulf Coast.
In my humble opinion there aren’t nearly enough ‘train songs’ in Country Music these days; but Allison and Spehar throw their cap in the ring with the jaunty and fast paced Train Train, Train ….. which sounds like it’s destined to be a fan favourite in concert.
Every song here is quite different from each other; but blend together like all of the elements in a good beer … coming out the other end as a single entity that is very memorable and worthy of recommendation; which brings me to my choice of Favourite Song; which not for the first time is a toss up between two tracks; Rockin’ On a Country Dancefloor is exactly what you’d hope to hear from a title like that; and wouldn’t sound out of place on a Vince Gill or George Strait album; yet the other Here In The Pass is a slow and remarkably sensitive Blue Collar tale that, namechecks Blue Bayou and needs your attention to get the very best from it.
I’m not going to take up too much time with the duo’s backstory; no matter how absolutely fascinating it is and; as Mrs. Magpie said when she read it ……”If you didn’t know it was true you’d never believe it …. and I wish someone would make a TV Series about them, with these songs as the soundtrack.”
She’s not wrong.

I’ve deliberately left this til the end:

Note from Gerry Spehar…

Bobby was in a car accident in 1975 that left his lower body paralyzed. He fought his way back to getting around mostly using crutches by the time we met in 1981, and he’s been on crutches or in a wheelchair ever since I’ve known him.
That’s how we played the Opry for the Wrangler Country Showdown in 1985, and how he was when he won it all solo in 1986.
He never let his disability get in the way and was always straight up about it, and we always approached it as a plus because it showed his strength of character, courage and spirit. I always admired him for it, and still do.
Right now, his struggle is Parkinson’s, which has made it difficult to play and sing as well as he did, but he can still get by with a little help from his friends.
So this album is a tribute to an extremely deserving musician and human being – Bobby Allison – and our long friendship.
You’ll see how deserving Bobby is when you hear him sing.

Released 21st January 2022


Carson McHone STILL LIFE

Carson McHone
Still Life
Loose Records

A Stunningly Sophisticated, Musically Diverse and Catchy Great Leap Forward

In the year pre-COVID, I saw Carson (counts on fingers) five times – the first and last were polar extremes of temperature – the first being in the fridge-like basement venue of the Hug and Pint in Glasgow – and the last time was in the 100+ degrees C at Drifter’s Bar, at Five Points in East Nashville.
One common thing about the setlists of those gigs – and the ones in-between, was that several of songs on this album were already written and being performed.
In those settings, they were played acoustically or with Carson’s regular band – what we’ve got here though, thanks to the magic wand of Daniel Romano, is quite a different and indeed splendid beast.

Opener “Hawks Don’t Share” was one that I’d heard before in acoustic arrangements, but here it finds itself with a rollicking almost Faces/Stones-like backing – McHone’s almost laconic delivery on top of this creates a sparkling juxtaposition.
The occasionally double-tracked vocal works well in reinforcing the catchy chorus before a ‘Clarence Clemons on downers’ sax from David Nardi forces things along – one for the radio pluggers to start working on methinks.

The title track “Still Life” which follows, is unlike anything Carson has recorded before – it’s classic Wilco in instrumentation and Romano’s production weaves organ and guitar riffs in and out of the lead vocal – making it a more fully textured sound to previous recordings; and the bigger sound is sure to attract a lot of ears and attention.

“Fingernail Moon” was a song that I first heard at the Glasgow show that I mentioned – I’ve been playing back a video that I did on my phone of the song – and it’s not changed in melody or lyrics, but has benefitted from angelic, soaring backing vocals, accordion and jangly 12 string guitar, which increase as the song goes on; creating a much more epic space than the version that I first encountered.
It’s lovely!

“Someone Else” is another of those songs that when I first heard it live, was crying out for the shuffled backbeat that it’s ended up with – there are some great grungy counterpoint guitars and fairground organ too, that accelerate the infectious nature of the song – listening to it, it made me think of a Dusty Springfield VERSUS ? and the Mysterians mashup – as unlikely as that sounds.
You can do air guitar and headbang to this – I speak from experience.

You wouldn’t want to do that to the next track “Spoil on the Vine,” which takes a trippy trip to Laurel Canyon, with double-tracked vocals on top of mellotron vibes, interspersed with raunchy White Album guitar.
It’s probably one of the tracks more similar in style to previous material, but Daniel Romano’s production fills out the sound in many more ways.

“Sweet Magnolia” starts with Mark Lalama’s piano and swelling strings. The accompaniment is held back to highlight the tremulous, emotive vocal – it’s probably one of my favourite tracks that Carson’s recorded and reveals a fantastic talent for pulling on the heartstrings and activating the tear ducts, both lyrically and vocally – but it’s surrounded by a fabulous and sensitive arrangement.

The emotional and musical swing rocks back upwards on “Only Lovers” – again it’s got an early 60’s white Soul feel, especially from the chopped rhythm guitar and “La La La” backing vocals, but Nardi’s sax takes it into stranger, even more interesting places.
“End of the World” which follows has no connection to the Skeeter Davis song of the same name – it’s probably the most similar in style to a lot of Carson’s previous release, “Carousel” but with more upfront guitar and thickened vocal stylings – and nicely discordant string sounds keep the listener on their toes too.

“Trim The Rose” close mics the lead vocal in a tale of giving up things to “help it grow”.
Musically it’s something that the late great David McComb of the Triffids would have approved of – gentle melody, rhythmic and dynamic shifts and emotive piano with menacing guitar all make an appearance.
“Folk Song” is equally diverse in its musical range – it’s another nod to and a shift towards Wilco territory – it’s a lyrical delight too – McHone’s delivery facilitates sharp bursts of poetic brightness.
Superficially, it’s not a Folk Song per se – but the more you listen to it, the more it is, however.
Clever stuff.

Final track “Tried” is another that I’d heard before on a single occasion – it’s a sign of the strength of McHone’s songwriting, that a song can implant itself in the consciousness so quickly.
This is the most stripped back song on the album – simple strummed/picked guitar with bass on the changes push the vocal and the lyric front and centre “there’s nowhere to hide/when you write it – say that I tried”.

It’s no surprise, reading this review to realise that I’m a fan of Carson McHone’s work, but this release has surpassed my expectations very pleasantly indeed – the musical and production contributions from Daniel Romano, along with sensitive and thoughtful playing from David Nardi and Mark Lalama have helped create a work of great beauty – musically it’s very sophisticated, yet energetic – lyrically it’s down to earth, yet carrying the poetry of the everyday to new places.
It’s as catchy as hell too – there’s something fascinating at every turn.
2022? The bar has already been set incredibly high – for this listener, it’s going to take something to top this album.
A wonderful release.

Review by Nick Barber
Released 25th February 2022

LOOSE: https://www.loosemusic.com/page/product-detail/still-life/
BANDCAMP: https://carsonmchone.bandcamp.com/album/still-life

Tinsley Ellis DEVIL MAY CARE

Tinsley Ellis
Devil May Care
Alligator Records

There’s So Much to Like Here Covering The Whole Spectrum of Electric Blues

Alligator Records is still one of a handful of labels out there that keeps on releasing; at the very least ‘interesting’ music but mostly very high very quality stuff from their fabulous rosta.
Although I’ve bought a few of their CD’s over the years, it’s only been recently that I’ve been on their mailing list for reviewing purposes; otherwise I may well have missed out on this cracking album.
Ellis has been on the Alligator label since 1988 yet I didn’t even recognise his name before sliding the silver disc into the office hi-fi.
Thirty seconds into opening track One Less Reason and I knew that I was onto a certified ‘winner;’
as Tinsley Ellis has a rough and silky voice and plays guitar in a liquid gold fashion; somewhere between BB King and Joe Bonamassa and his songwriting and storytelling is so ‘believable.’
Devil May Care is one of those few albums that works on several levels; in the car I cranked it up to 9 one night after a particularly awful shift at work; and last week I played it to mellow out while filling in some complicated forms ….. and both suited my moods equally as well.
If we take for granted that Ellis is a phenomenal guitarist (he is!) and his majestic voice is so well suited to to the Blues you’d think he should be a much bigger star than he is …. I will concentrate on his songs; as that’s what ultimately makes the difference between success and failure.
Ellis never strays too far from the ‘relationship’ mode of writing; but this is The Blues after all so that’s as less a surprise as it’s expected; with the claustrophobic One Last Time and the crackling Beat The Devil coming from opposite extremes of the Blues spectrum but sitting perfectly well like well behaved siblings.
For a man on his 20th Album in 24 years; it’s fascinating to realise that he can still find new ways to describe the many aspects of being in love, without ever repeating himself; which comes to the fore during Just Like Rain, Right Down The Drain and the sweltering 28 Days too.
There’s so much to like here apart from just Ellis’s vocals and guitar playing; the arrangements and interplay between his guitar playing and Kevin McKendree’s assortment of keyboards has to be heard to be believed; then there’s the classy drums and bass of Steve Mackey and Lynn Williams who drive the beat from start to breathless finish.
Speaking, as I was of the different styles of play here; my two Favourite Songs are also from Polar opposites of the spectrums; the finale Slow Train to Hell sounds like a great lost BB King track resurrected by Albert Collins or Buddy Guy; but it’s not ….. it’s just another one of the 200+ songs Tinsley wrote during the the various lockdowns in the last couple of years.
The other is Funkalicious ride called JuJu and is something of a cornerstone for the whole album as it shimmers and shakes like no other; but is also the centrifugal force that everything else sparks off ….. and I bloody love it.
I had to do a double-take the first night I heard Higher Ground; as I thought it could be a re-arranged version of the Stevie Wonder classic; but it’s not even though it sounds like it’s not a million miles away in content and context; as Ellis and McKendree trade notes in the background like a gang shootout in the rough part of town.
Both the strength and perceived weakness of DEVIL MAY CARE for me is that I don’t have the time (or finances!) to delve into Tinsley Ellis’s back catalogue; much as I feel I want to …. such is the effect this album has had and is having on me.

Released January 21 2022


Aoife O’Donovan AGE OF APATHY

Aoife O’Donovan
Age of Apathy
Yep Roc

Articulate, Pearlescent, Breathy and Ever so Sensitive Songs and Vocals Too.

At RMHQ we aim to listen to an album at least three times before ‘putting pen to paper;’ unlike many of our more esteemed contempories who don’t always get past the Press Release (you know who I mean #wink).
But occasionally time dictates that this isn’t always possible, and at other times the music is so magical; that’s not always necessary ….. both apply here.
My God!!! What an amazing voice Aoife O’Donovan has …… pearlescent, breathy and ever so sensitive too.
As I initially listened for the first time and surprised myself by being unable to find any of her previous releases in my collection; apart from the I’m With Her band; even from her ‘band’ Crooked Still ….. I just presumed I would have more.
Which neatly brings me to the wonderful surprises on offer here.
Best described as haunting or perhaps even hypnotic; opening song Sister Starling treads a fine line between Modern Folk and Lo-Fi; with a smattering of the Avant Garde in the shadows too. It will take you a long time before you actually listen intently to Aoife’s story here; as her voice and gentle melody will reel you in like a big ole salmon on a reel and won’t let you loose until the song is ready to allow you freedom from it.
What a stunning way to start an LP.
The quality never drops either; even if the tempo and songwriting does change on occasion.
The dark title track Age of Apathy deserves aas very wide an audience as is possible; like so many of her elders in the music industry Aoife takes it upon herself to use 9/11 as a starting point for ‘growing up’, emotionally and that certainly comes across in this sometime harrowing tale.
It will be all too easy for people to put this on in the background while doing household chores and letting the fabulous melodies ‘wash over you’; and the melody on Phoenix has a fabulous melody and a great story; but doing that means you only get perhaps 30% of this album; as the songs are what you should be concentrating on. You’d never believe Ms O’Donovan had ‘writers block’ a couple of years ago and openly admits to not particularly liking the songwriting process; when you hear the remarkably eloquent Elevators, Town of Mercy and Passengers that closes proceedings.
B61 was originally slowly picked out on piano in her New York home during Lockdown; and now gently and imaginatively takes us across a cityscape that could be anywhere in the world.
As I regularly say these days ‘there are no obvious singles here’ predominantly because this is a fully formed and grown up album; the type of which my generation knew as Bedsit Albums; and that’s meant as a compliment, as songs like Phoenix, Lucky Star and the stupendously beautiful duet with Allison Russell; Prodigal Daughter are all deeply personal to the writer herself; but will touch the hearts of lonely people the world over, who will feel that there is someone else out there who feels just like them.
At first hearing you may think that this is a ‘sad album’ but it’s anything but once you delve deep into the grooves; which brings me to two songs that I can’t decide which is my actual Favourite.
Galahad has really taken me by surprise, as Aoife seems to use the Arthurian Knight of olde as a metaphor for a lover in the 21st Century …. and crazilly, it works a treat.
Then there is Lucky Star; written on a wet and hot Summer holiday with her family; errs on the side of Avant Garde and may even sound a tad angry at times due to the intense arrangement; but that’s no bad thing on occasion and today; it just ‘feels’ like it’s my Favourite Track; but I also guess that accolade will change as the weeks and months go by.
On that very subject; as I’ve been typing the song What Do You Want From Yourself has been unravelling; making me repeat it four times, primarily because it opens with:
Happy go lucky in the afternoon
I can do anything I want when I’m with you
How I spent my 37 years with around the sun
In 33 more, I’ll be an old woman
Snap bag with a beer in my hand

Plus it has an absolutely killer line in it too;
When do you learn that your skin isn’t as deep as you thought?
You miss these things when you aren’t listening properly!
As I said at the beginning, Aoife O’Donovan’s beguiling voice and singing style will captivate you from start to finish; but like Joni Mitchell, Judee Sill, Carol King and even John Martyn before her; it ultimately the quality of her songs that will make this album not just initially a ‘considered purchase’ but ultimately a ‘go-to keeper’ that will be kept for special occasions when only it will get you through the long dark and lonely nights.

Released January 21st 2021


Eric Brace & The Last Train Home EVERYTHING WILL BE

Eric Brace & The Last Train Home
Everything Will Be
Red Beet Records

An Adventurous and ‘Grown Up’ Alt. Country Album That Straddles a Couple of Other Genres Too.

Eric Brace & The Last Train Home aren’t the type of band to ever headline Glastonbury or Lollapalooza, but they could be the band playing in the tent on the other side of the field that is so packed with knowledgeable music fans, you will want to go in to see what the fuss is about; and if you did it’s quite possible you’d leave with them being your new Favourite Band of All Time.
Why? You might well ask.
Like so many bands of their ilk; they have an assortment of great songs with fabulous arrangements and the band can all play their instruments rather excellently; the only downside being that they aren’t in the first flush of youth ….. but then again; neither are we.
After a ten year hiatus this is Eric Brace & The Last Train Home’s second album in three years and I couldn’t be happier.
Treading a very narrow and menacing path between Country and Alt. Country the band throw their marker down with the title track Everything Will Be as the opener; and it’s desolate and even mournful lyrics are complemented by some grungy guitars on a story about trying to help those close to us; but not always know how to do it the right way. Oh; there’s a trumpet voluntary towards the end that shouldn’t work; but adds even more pathos to an already wonderful song.
Obviously it’s the combined efforts of Brace and his fellow bandmates that make this album a keeper; but it’s his rich voice that will catch the uninitiated’s attention first and foremost; especially on the second song Lily of The Day, The Next Time too; and later on the magnificent tale, In The Dark too.
Brace’s own songs and stories are all of the mature variety; which will undoubtedly appeal to grown up music fans, no longer seeking the elixir of youth they think is missing in their life; when he casually drops in Language and Next Time you know you are listening to a songwriter who has actually lived a life not too dissimilar to yourself; but has the talent to write about it and put it to music.
For a singer-songwriter of some renown; Brace has included some cover songs here; and they are fascinating choices; starting with the intriguingly beautiful John Hartford song The Six O’clock Girl With Green Eyes, which I’ve only heard once before ….. on a VA album I think.
I absolutely love the arrangement of I’m An Old Cowhand (first heard in a 1936 Bing Crosby film!) as it swings and rolls along like said Cowhand ….. and come on; this is where Yippee Kai Oh Kye Aye comes from! What’s not to like.
Then the album closes via a British Folk Rock single that was actually a Hit in my teens; McGuiness Flint’s When I’m Dead and Gone; and this particular arrangement somehow sounds like a mash up between Little Feet and Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance! Well worth seeking out it is too.
Which only leaves me to tell you about my Favourite Song here; which was a three-way toss up between the rambunctious instrumental East Nashville Highball, the Old Timey and New Orleans dripping If I Had a Nickel and the actual winner; the gentle Just a Moment, not just because it’s a wonderful way to spend three minutes or so; but because of the back story:
In early March, 2020, Brace was in Ireland about to launch a tour with Thomm Jutz, when Covid-19 outbreaks forced them to fly back to the U.S. without playing a lick.
He returned to a Nashville that had been slammed by tornadoes, and huge chunks of his neighborhood had been shredded.
Luckily, his block was spared, as was the neighborhood’s spirit.
Up the street from Brace’s house in East Nashville, during the warmer months of 2020, there was a weekly “pandemic talent show” of neighborhood kids.
Mask-wearing folks would bring their folding chairs, set them up a good ways apart, and listen to the creative youngsters that seem to thrive around there.
It was held in the front yard of a not-yet-a-teenager named Luke, a budding trumpet player, and his afternoon practice sessions up the block often caught Brace’s ear.”

This is that story ……. prepare to shed a tear.
As I said earlier this is a ‘grown up’ album that straddles a couple of disparate genres; and there’s even some adventurous use of saxophone, harmonica, pedal-steel and trumpet as well as the more traditional instrumentation that you’d expect; and it all works fabulously well …. so congratulations all around.

Released 14th January 2022