Gretchen Peters THE SHOW (Live From the UK)

Gretchen Peters
THE SHOW (Live From the UK)
Proper Records/Scarlet Letter Records

Even Better Than Any Studio Based Greatest Hits Package Can Capture.

My father used to say “God acts in mysterious ways” and I’ve often found solace in that adage when things that really can’t be explained happen in my life.
In this case, I’ve had this remarkable double album for a month now and played it in full; every couple of days, yet never felt ‘the right time’ for writing up a review. With the release date looming I decided that this morning would have to be ‘the right time’. So as I drank my morning tea perusing my Social Media accounts I stumbled on a friend forwarding the message that from June 2023 Gretchen and Barry Walsh would cease touring; while still recording.
That news somehow makes this Live Recording even more important; don’t ya think?
I presume Gretchen planned the release to coincide with that news; and that may or may not account for the sequencing that makes the haunting Arguing With Ghosts as the lead song …. my memory doesn’t tell me that it was or wasn’t the first song of the night when I saw her on this particular tour …. but it certainly makes for a fascinating intro.
This is followed by Hello Cruel World; again ….. was this a ‘secret message’ to her legion of fans …. or just a coincidence?
Enough of this ‘movement in shadows’ malarkey ….. let’s just talk about the music.
To some degree this Double Album is a Greatest Hits; but with a couple of left of centre songs from her 40 year career tucked in for good measure.
For your information; and you’d never know it; but these songs were recorded over three seperate nights at three seperate concert halls around the UK; yet the end result sounds absolutely perfect, so a huge round of applause to the producer and engineers (as well as the soundmen in the venues).
It’s a given at this stage, that Gretchen sounds pitch perfect (as does Barry Walsh btw) on every song; so for me it’s the song selection that is most noteworthy.
I was going to say that those first two songs were ‘recent’ yet; Arguing With Ghosts has just celebrated it’s 8th Birthday and Hello Cruel World its 11th!
These are followed by Secret of Life which is surely from the same vintage; but no ….. its 26 years old…. yet still hitting nails bang on the head in 2022.
I was late to the party and only discovered the musical delights of Ms Peters via the Hello Cruel World album which I reviewed for a magazine; pretty much unaware that her career went back decades earlier; and I’m sure the first time I saw Gretchen Peters it was just her and Barry Walsh on stage in true troubadour fashion, singing the likes of Hello Cruel World, Revival, The Matador and Five Minutes with just a guitar and piano for accompaniment; here they get the full nine yards; guitars (electric and acoustic), piano, bass and most importantly …. a full and sumptuous string section.
Which brings me to the part about what a great songwriter Gretchen Peters is; and always has been. These songs and more here; would all have sounded just as powerful when sung so sparsely in clubs and small theatres in their earlier performances; and lose not a jot when filled out for large concert halls.
I’ve been thrilled to hear songs like the majestic Say Grace and the very acutely observed When All You’ve Got is a Hammer, which opens the second album like an old friend re-entering your life.
As I implied earlier; I’ve been listening ever more intently this morning; which appears to have brought out even extra depth to Blackbirds, Disappearing Act and Everything Falls Away; as if they needed anything extra to make them any more special.
Of course the beautiful On a Bus To St. Cloud, Blackbirds and Say Grace in any format will always be Favourites of mine; but as usual I’m going off piste for Favourites on this particular album as I’d forgot how wonderfully observed Love That Makes a Cup of Tea and album closer Idlewild were … in fact I’d forgot that both were even Gretchen Peters songs.
If there’s one song that you should hear to understand why Gretchen Peters’ fans are so loyal (and vocal) it’s possibly Five Minutes, where she captures the minutiae of a Blue Collar woman’s life in …. Five Minutes.
Then; there’s When You Love Someone ….. WOW! What a song! Hearing Gretchen and Barry harmonising like the Everly Brothers has been like having my heart X-rayed.
Then, there’s the most pertinent song here (for me at least) …… When You Are Old; man oh man ….. one of her oldest songs here ….. written in 1991 when she was in her early 40’s yet somehow has a writer’s foresight to see into the future and hearing her sing this in 2022 with just as much heartfelt l.o.v.e in her voice nearly reduced me to tears, and the long applause at the ends shows that it’s not just me who thinks so …. making it my Favourite Track here.
There’s not a lot else to say; her fans were always going to buy this; and especially now Gretchen has announced her retirement from touring will bring a few more waverers to the party; and I can’t think of a better way to say farewell to this particular part of her life; possibly even better than any studio based Greatest Hits package can capture.

Released 19th August 2022


The Magpies Festival 2022; Sutton on the Forest YORK.

As a contributing scribe for The Rocking Magpie I thought it would be prudent, no, obligatory to take in the 2022 Magpies Festival, located 8 miles North of York at Sutton-on-the-Forest which was indeed a
magnificent location, not too far to travel from Durham either and with the promise of the good things
to come with something of a folky vibe, I guess for the weekend I’d take on the guise of the Folkin’
Got to say, I’m not into those shiny mega-festivals; just way too big, too many people, too much choice, etc, etc.
Hence, one of the reasons why I’m at The Magpies Festival is because it really is a case of small is
beautiful. I even had a pot of tea at the adjacent Sutton Park Tea Room before putting my tent up under
the shade of a tree.
The bearded hipsters among us might well be justified in describing this as a ‘boutique’ festival experience, nonetheless, it feels just right nestled under the aforementioned tree drinking a glass of chilled white wine before heading off to catch John Smith, followed by Rob Heron and his
Tea Pad Orchestra.
Both were magnificent in very different ways. Smith armed with only an acoustic guitar and self-deprecating humour was heroic and Heron turned in a blistering set of old and new songs, rounded off with his protest against HS2 – ‘High-Speed Train‘.
If you ask the fat controller,
I’m sure he’d disagree but if it was up to me
I’d let everyone ride for free’
Well said Rob, we could all do with the occasional free train journey these days.
John Smith and Rob Heron were my two main stage highlights (Seth Lakeman was excellent too) but it
was a band on The Brasscastle Stage – The 309s that left me with the feel-good factor all good festivals
should aspire to.

Funnily enough, the band named themselves after a song about a train – The 3.09
which just happens to be the last song johnny Cash recorded before he passed on. Clearly then they are
making their musical influences overt before they even play a note.
Before their set drummer Tim Spencer explains to me

“There’s been a hell of a lot of music recorded since gramophones were invented and we are into the sound of the southern states of America, from 1925 to 1955.
This gives us quite a range, from Western Swing created in Texas by Bob Wills, through to Memphis and Rock ‘n’ Roll’s early days. We also take in sub-genres such as Country Boogie and Jump
Blues, now popular with jive dancers.
We’ve worked out what makes these songs tick and created the 309s sound.
Some of the live set is fast, a few are slow and romantic, and the rest are played so folks can
Since 2015 we have been adding our own songs to the mix; created to sound like Classics from
the 40s & 50s and you’d be hard pressed to know which of the songs are old and which are new.”

Tim showed me around his drum kit too – it’s all wood (except for the skins and symbols)) and he made it
himself, save for the bass drum which he salvaged from a marching band! It sounds lovely and warm and as you can imagine. A true work of art I must say.
Complete with a bunch of flowers.
Before they get started guitarist, Rod Boyes who also shares lead vocal duties with the [self-described]
‘raunchy’ Nancy Vero lets us know that their regular violin player has Covid but they have managed to
recruit a replacement – Emily Lawler from The Dan Webster Band.
They hadn’t previously met and had just run through a tune or two and the rest we are told, Emily will improvise. Her performance was simply stunning and the audience reaction proves my point with mid-song applause on more than one occasion.
Nancy’s face also told its own story, as throughout she just looked on, totally amazed by Emily’s
spontaneous solos.
As Tim had alluded to I was hard pressed to decipher which songs were covers and which ones were
their own compositions
You can have my husband but stay away from my man‘ I believe was recorded
by Irma Thomas in 1958 but the 309’s put there own spin on it; and Nancy’s vocal put me in mind of Amy
Winehouse rather than Irma Thomas.
From start to finish, the vocal interplay between Rod Boyes and Nancy created a party feel that really
lifted the already heady mood.
The afternoon session had featured some rather introspective singer/songwriters, so
this felt like a real game changer. The bar staff got busy and the crowd lapped up the beer and the music
and got their dancing shoes on.
A nice little waltz split the set in two when the band performed the Boyes penned song ‘So Many Tunes‘.
Then it was back into the foot tappin’ stuff, I particularly enjoyed a 309s penned tune ‘Mosquito‘,
It’s the hot places that I like
I’m going down to Louisiana where the Mosquito’s rock and roll’.

Apt, as this particular Yorkshire day felt more like a day in the Deep South – it was indeed roasting. Mosquito featured more great violin playing and ever more accomplished vocal interchange, combined with some great guitar work by Rod; on what I later discover is an Ibanez guitar.
It sounded lush, especially during their clever take on The Johnny Cash tune ‘I’ve Been Everywhere Man‘ in which the 309s cleverly namecheck a bunch of GB towns rather than the original versions’ USA counterparts.
I could go on, but suffice to say The 309s were the highlight of my festival and I wouldn’t be surprised to
see them back on the main stage in 2023.
If you take a look at the media page on their website, they’ve uploaded a bunch of tracks and it’s well worth a listen, but better still go out and see them live.
For sure the 309s will provide you with a serotonin boost and will most likely leave you wanting more of the same.

Review by the one and only Folkin’ Magpie Graham!



RMHQ Radio Show Ep 14 @NovaRadioNE Newcastle

RMHQ Radio Show Ep 14
Nova Radio NE
Sunday 14th August 2022

A stifling hot day made for a more relaxed and balanced show than usual, with a laid back mix of Americana, Roots and Blues for your delectation.
It appears that this ‘listen again’ service is proving popular with the ‘figures’ rising every week …. and the live show on a Sunday evening (GMT) is doing better than expected around Tyneside on FM …. plus the Internet too.

Ep14Elvis CostelloSweet Dreams
14th AugRob VincentI’ll make the most of my sins
Allison RussellPoison Arrow
Neil GetzFactory Second
Ashley McBrydeThe Jacket
BJ Cole & Dave EastoeDaydream Smile
Hannah AldridgeThe Irony of Love
Jeff Dale & The South WoodlawnersPush Comes to Shove
Dr JohnGive me that old time religion
My Girl the RiverThe spark
Mariel BuckleyDriving around
Geraint WatkinsRush of Blood
Holy Moly & The CrackersKiss me before you go
Rev. KM WilliamsPoor boy long way from home
Lightnin’ HopkinsOnce a gambler
Madison VioletCindy Cindy
Neil YoungYou and me
Leigh ThomasBeautiful Pain
Joe BonamassaSpanish boots
Otis RushSo many roads, so many trains
Walter TroutBlues for Jimmy T
Kelly HoganNo Bobby don’t
Neil CasalHey you (looking at the moon)
Rob Heron & Tea Pad OrchestraRemind me tomorrow
Caitlin CaryPlease, don’t hurry your love
Bap KennedyRadio Waves
Gretchen PetersSay Grace

Miraculous Mule OLD BONES, NEW FIRE

Miraculous Mule
Old Bones/New Fire 

People Get Ready to Have Your Lives Changed

It’s no secret that I was raised up by the Staples Singers in glorious, tremulous, soul-stirring passion for humble guitar, spirited vocals and The Word from both above and below. 
My powerful love for Gospel and Sanctified Soul lives deep in my heart and burns in my bones; so, it was a potent surprise when my first listen to Old Bones, New Fire by Miraculous Mule resounded like a welcome home party from Hell!

Opening with the a cappella “I Know I’ve Been Changed” is the perfect setup for this collection of 9 newly inspired interpretations of traditional Gospel songs, plus one original composition, “We Get What We Deserve” by these “Anglo-Irish Londoners who mix Blues, Punk, Gospel, Stoner and Psychedelia Garage Rock.” 

Dark, brooding reverence with just the right amount of sinful disdain keeps this powerful collection both modern and miraculous in tone and purpose. 
The band can feel like a low-fi 60’s Garage combo on “Nobody/Nothing” channeling Grace Slick & The Great Society and with equal measure go full Pops Staples and Family on “City of Refuge.” 

“We Get What We Deserve,” written by Miraculous Mule, hangs perfectly with the rest of the tunes and summons Dave Mason’s classic “Feelin’ Alright.”
It’s a darkly optimistic number that eases the mind and disturbs the spirit just enough to shake the dust off the complacent 21st century modern mind set. 

“O Death,” sung by Alex Louise Petty, is as haunting as you need it be as a midpoint that snaps us back to reality and returns us to the a cappella treatment of voices that express essential and elemental vulnerability.
Trailing off in a ghostly fade out that feels like a gut punch, leaves the listener weeping for the loss of the sound of the singer’s lamentable and pleading voice.
That fade out reads like the death of a good friend and it was more emotional than I expected it to be. 

Many versions of “John The Revelator” have I. 
But in all honesty, this one swings in a way that transforms the story into a JJ Cale style biblical blues that feels framed like a John Ford film.
It’s super groovy and almost sexy (whispering background vocals).
There’s a secret happening here.
A mystery wrapped in a mystery, shrouded in bluesy, honey-dripping licks, organ and percussive rattle to spark a sensual curiosity that I have not associated with this song before.

“Butcher Boy” is where you can hear the “English Folk” influence in the nylon string guitar and the vocal arrangement.
A hint of Sergio Leone lurks in the electric guitars, banjo and percussion.
A strong interpretation with a psychedelic High-Plains Drifter feel. 

Every song and each word touched me.
“How can I be quiet when there’s fire down in my bones…” 
Is the lyric and the question that jumps out in “Fire in my Bones” that I have been asking myself ever since the world turned upside down in 2020.
As I have always known, vital and significant music has a miraculous way of finding its path to whomever needs to receive it.
My “Old Bones” gratefully accept this “New Fire” and thank you, thank you …… thank you Miraculous Mule for transporting me to this sonic, spiritual haven in a heartless world.  

Released 12th August 2022
Review by Emily Duff


The Bloodstained Angels AU

The Bloodstained Angels|

Stark, Raw, Honest, Deeply Personal and Incredibly Brittle Songs That You Will Get Lost In

It was a lovely surprise when this package arrived a week or so ago, as I really liked Australia’s The Bloodstained Angels debut release V, a couple of years ago.
Being so far away, I/we probably don’t give Australia a second thought when it comes to ‘Immigrants;’ although if you scratch the surface, this huge country has the same problems as the USA and Europe; and much like the USA the indigenous people who can trace their heritage back hundreds of years are treat like second class citizens, while the newcomers treat them like dirt.
Here the writer imagines a road trip across country to meet his favourite Aussie Rules footballer; Aborigine Cyril Rioli as the thread for this very passionate tale; expertly using an Aboriginal ‘wisdom’
We crawl from the dirt
and we walk the earth
It’s just for a moment
then we turn to dust.

as the haunting chorus.
Much like songwriter James Nixon, as a music fan and lifelong football fan I’ve never understood racism in any format as many of the heros in both industries have invariably been people of colour.
A lot has happened in the last three years to the world and Nixon himself; and thankfully as a songwriter he has the ability to put these feelings into an eminently klistenable song; although many here are quite raw and not so easy on the ear.
The first in that tone is probably Tame Impala; a drunken story about a girlfriend teasing about being the ex of musician Kevin Parker from beat popsters, Tame Impala. It’s a song that could have gone in many directions but Nixon somehow manages to keep a lid on his emotions.
Not all drinking songs are sloppy and fun.
There’s absolutely no reason why not; and it never really hurt Paul Kelly’s career; but I find Nixon’s accent; which he makes no pretence at hiding and his use of specifically Australian imagery totally fascinating, and coupled together make for a rare treat.
While it could actually be about anywhere in the world; The Day It Snowed in Melbourne is intrinsically ‘local’ in the way the singer takes us on a trip to his family home and the characters therein, on The Day It Snowed in Melbourne.
Ballarat and Back Again starts with another wailing harmonica intros; and takes us on a road trip that was meant to be only a couple of centimetres on a map; and becomes a metaphor for the parts of life that don’t really make sense; but we do them ‘just to prove we can.’
This is followed by a more uptempo song; but still in that same vein; Adelaide, I’m Starving For You Tonight; about starting out on a ‘journey’ that doesn’t end in the way you’d first planned or hoped; and the church organ that glides in and out adds a certain pathos only that particular instrument can bring to the party.
Perhaps it’s the romantic in us all; but using American place names in songs makes us all feel comfortable in a way I can’t explain; but whe British towns/cities are used in in this case, Australian Cities they always sound less exotic … is that just me?
A Gazillion Miles From George St. is nominally about finally growing up and ‘moving on’; but certain memories of friends and places we love and loved; in this case, “getting out of it on Lady Martin’s Beach in Sydney” and the other places Nixon name checks will have most of us harking back to places from our own wild days as teens.
In Bendigo, the town of the title is actually irrelevant, as it’s only the scene for a couple falling in love and all of the imperfections each have being pulled together to create a heartwarming love affair.
In some ways Nixon peaks with his observations here; especially
When I bought her a burger
She taught me ‘Meat is Murder’
That Fanta was a Nazi front for Coke!

I’ve no idea if any of that is actually true; but when you’re first in love you believe anything and everything a lover tells you.
Trying to find a single Favourite Track has been incredibly difficult; simply because each song is entirely different and at no time does the singer even tenuously try to be commercial ….. but Larrikins; his memory of being an unruly youth, having laughs and drinking ….. but disappearing into the shadows as soon ‘as the fighting started’ rang a few bells for me; and that howling harmonica certainly adds an edge to the proceedings.
Then I have to jump to the final two songs on the album; MEL-JFK and Luna Park; both are stark and tragically beautiful; with the former describing a single day travelling around New York and ending up at Shea Stadium where he looks around remembering it as ‘the place the Beatles played.’
Everything is wrapped up with the finale, Luna Park …. as the narrator and his lover make their way to the funfair hoping something will happen to rekindle the spark they once had; as the melody and arrangement build and build and ….. does it happen? You will have to listen to find out for yourself …. and because of that, I’m tempted to make this my Favourite because of the twists and turns.
The way James Nixon aka The Bloodstained Angels not just sings, but constructs and arranges his songs don’t make for easy listening; some are stark others incredibly brittle but if you listen carefully there’s a raw honesty and ‘truth’ in each and every song here.

Released August 1st 2022


Kelsey Waldon NO REGULAR DOG

Kelsey Waldon
No Regular Dog
Oh Boy Records!

Sprinkling Her Very Own Brand of Country Stardust To Create a Series of Mini-Soap Operas

While avoiding the actual Press Release, I obviously had to read the email that accompanied this album last week; and seeing it was being released on John Prine’s Oh Boy Records! meant I was 99% sure I was going to like the contents; then seeing Shooter Jennings’ name as producer and his band featuring as backing added the extra 1% before I’d even heard a note!!
My ‘Spidey-Senses’ were confirmed after only a minute or so of first song; No Regular Dog, which is very much the type of Modern Country Music that both I and Mrs Magpie love to bits. There’s enough pathos in Kasey’s voice to fill a bathtub and when that ‘warble’ arrives in the chorus I genuinely choked up.
Alongside a couple more, later track #2; Sweet Little Girl has a big production from Jennings; but instead of smothering Walden’s vocals he/they somehow manage to capture the spirit of the story in a way I’d normally associate with early Loretta and/or Reba recordings … and I’m not exaggerating at all.
Recording since 2007; Kelsey Walden still has a lot to say in her songs; and I’m sure I won’t be the only one who will revisit the harrowing tale of Small Town America (or England) History Repeats Itself, or the heart squeezing Simple As Love and the stunning Progress Again many, many times as while being very personal to the singer; also open up doors from my own life and plenty of other listeners too.
While Jennings’ sympathetic production and the arrangements of the songs themselves make for perfect listening at home; I’m pretty sure Ms. Waldon will be touring these songs without a band behind her; and certainly not one of this quality; so you have to see past what you are hearing to imagine her standing alone on a stage somewhere in East Treestump, Nowheresville on a Thursday night ….. and even then; You Can’t Ever Tell and Backwater Blues will blow you away, such is the strength and intimacy in the writing … and of course the delivery.
Never having heard Kasey Waldon previously has made this album an absolute delight from start to finish; with the word ‘quality’ turning up 6 times in my handwritten notes over the last few days; and two songs received 3 stars too!
These are the fabulous Honky Tonkin’ Peace Alone (Reap What You Sow) which again tugged at my heartstrings while also making me return to a couple of times in my own life that I’m not too proud of …. and Kelsey somehow makes that sound romantic; plus Doug Pettibone’s searing guitar interludes and Aubrey Richmond’s outstanding fiddle playing will draw even the most casual of listeners into the fold.
The other is actually the most ‘obvious’ of songs to become a Favourite; but in my defence I’d already given Season’s Ending 3 stars before I knew it was actually about John Prine …. and when I read the story behind it as it gently eased out of the office speakers I had to wipe some dust from eyes more than once; so Season’s Ending takes the well deserved accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song.
Like many of her contempories Kasey Waldon takes the minutiae from her everyday life and loves then adds her very own brand of stardust to create a series of mini-soap operas that somehow gel together to make for a fascinating and thought provoking album that will never stray far from the house stereo.

PS …. It turns out that Kelsey Waldon was raised in the Western Kentucky town of ….. Monkeys Eyebrow! Please, please, please let that be true and can someone send me confirmation that it really does exist.

Released 12th August 2022

Physical copies

John Calvin Abney TOURIST

John Calvin Abney
Black Mesa Records

Contemporary Americana From a Singer-Songwriter That Will Criss-Cross The Generations

Before I get into the music; I’ve found it illuminating to find why Abney has called the album TOURIST. When the lease on his apartment ended in May 2020 he had the urge to travel; staying in hotels, motels and occasionally the couch at friends homes that he hadn’t seen in years.While this was when the songs here came to him; the time on the road got him to thinking back to his childhood; where he had often felt like a Tourist ….. ‘a quiet figure in the background; softly gathering scenery and songs inside his head.
I’ve often felt the same way; although seen as something of a gregarious figure …… ‘When I stand still, I become invisible‘ which is why many of these songs; while not always taken literally; have really resonated with me.
There’s a gorgeous California laid back feel to opening track Full Moon Friend, but the lyrics are a lot deeper than the catchy tune will have you expecting; and it features a beautiful melody that drifts in every now and again taking the listener to a ‘special place’ they perhaps didn’t know that they needed to visit.
Track #2 Call Me Achilles has an 80’s electro-pop vibe to it; via the judicious use of a synthesiser; but the razorwire guitars and keenly observed minutiae keep it firmly in the Americana fold.
Personally I love the way Abney plays around with the construction and arrangement of his songs; nothing is straightforward; apart from perhaps, his golden whispery voice?
As a simple music fan; I’ve always admired songwriters that ‘colour outside the lines’ and that’s pretty much what we have here; as a for instance; in By Your Leave; Abney drops in “I never met a quiet so loud‘ in the chorus. Now, taken out of context it sounds twee …. but in the song it makes complete sense and describes what he sees and hears at that moment in time both literally and metaphorically.
Long Black River is another case in point; is it a literal description of a ‘long black river’ or; and this is more likely … a metaphor for the life he was living at that time; and can easily be listened to on both levels.
There really is so much to like here; none more so than Holy Golden West, which has echoes of RMHQ favourites and ‘guilty pleasures’ …. Elton John and Dean Friedman and includes the magical imagery of:
Ashes fall like snow from cigarette skies”
I don’t really know what that means ….. but I love it!
Abney’s delightful voice really comes of age on the meticulous Sleepwalkers; and the arrangement is as dreamy and lurid as the song title suggests that it should be.
This is then followed by the perfect album closer; Good Luck and High Tide … which sounds dark and sad; but there’s a golden ray of hope weaving all the lines together, leaving you wryly smiling and possibly even sighing at the insight that Abney shows better than most of his modern contempories.
As always ‘Favourite Songs’ aren’t necessarily the most commercial or clever songs on an album; they are the ones that sneak up on you and leave you feeling that they could be about you and you alone.
Perhaps that’s just me; but two songs here certainly left me smiling and relaxing every time I’ve played Leave Me By The Shoreline; most especially because of the winsome way Abney sings/sighs the chorus “I need a vacation” in between a tale of not wanting to be ‘taken for granted’ but if that’s what it takes to be in your life; it’s better than nothing.
The other; and probably tips the balance to be today’s Favourite; is Watch Me Go (Back in Time) a complicated song about a complicated love story, that again has a melody that will stick inside your head for aeons; and has another fabulous observation tucked away that will make the casual listener go “Ooooh! I wish I’d thought of that.”
How many times have I felt like a first aid kit in an old junk drawer
Bandage and tape cover up cuts and scrapes that I don’t feel anymore.

I’m guessing that many if not most of us have felt that way inside a relationship at least once.
Although he already had 5 albums in the bag by the time TOURIST arrived through the post at RMHQ I’d never previously heard of John Calvin Abney; but this album has been something of a ‘go to’ in the last few weeks; not least last week when it was the cornerstone of our listening in the car on a four day trip to South Wales via a series of grid-locked motorways ….. his voice keeping me from spontaneously combusting several times!
I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed an album so dependent on synthesisers, a Wurlitzer and/or a Fender Rhodes …. probably my New Wave/Power Pop period; but Abney uses them like old friends and the addition of his co-producer John Moreland Esq. makes for an album that will easily appeal to bright young professionals and their super cool electric vehicles and grumpy old music fans alike.
Released August 5th 2022


Jeff Dale & The South Woodlawners BLOOD RED MOON

Jeff Dale & The South Woodlawners
Blood Red Moon
Self Release

Chicago Blues at Its Heart But Plenty of Dark Back Alleys to Explore Too.

This album was originally sent to our friend Jack Kidd by Jeff Dale as they’ve known each other for years; but Jack is still suffering ‘Long Covid’ and asked to pass it on to me; whom he presumed would give it a ‘sympathetic’ hearing.
I love it!
Yet again Jack has managed to unearth an Award winning act with numerous previous releases spanning 40+ years that I’ve never heard of.
To all intents and purposes it sounds like Jeff Dale spent his ‘lock down’ period trying new things; but never straying too far from the Classic Blues path writing and arranging these songs but that doesn’t stop there being surprises around every corner.
Opening track, You Make Your Own Bed is a rambunctious Chicago Blueser with Dale using his lived in and grizzled voice to sing about someone (him?) that constantly makes bad life choices but still blames everyone but themselves; and the tune and instrumentation is an absolute blast!
Even though the mood changes are regular and noticeable; there’s still a definite ‘cognitive style’ that keeps the flow flowing; not least when the African inspired Blood Red Moon is followed by the sleazy yet punchy At The Wolf’s Door which is 100% influenced by the stuff that came out of the South side of Chicago in the 50’s and 60’s and has more than a hint of Howlin’ Wolf in the beat too.
While I guess Jeff Dale’s fans go to his gigs for a good time; his songs here are certainly well worth digging deep inside to unearth some fascinating stories and articulate songwriting; none more so than The Dirty Jacks (a sultry ode to the effects that this drink can have on a relationship!) and Push Comes To Shove too; although Dale is most proud of this song because he ‘appropriates part of Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” for the solo and has the L.A. Opera’s principal cellist join him?

While this is undoubtedly a Blues album at heart, with Dale proudly wearing his influences alongside his own imagery; the singer-songwriter that kept springing to mind as I listened was David Olney; who also, was never afraid to try something different and proudly ‘never released the same album twice or even the same song;’ and I feel Jeff Dale comes from the same school of thought …. who else would include songs as diverse as the soulfully Jazz Lite Autumn Blues and follow it with the eminently danceable but heartbreaking She Wouldn’t Leave Chicago and then subtly add a sitar to the Bluesiest song here; That Ain’t Love ….. and make both work like siblings!
Eventually I’m obliged to tell you what my Favourite Song is; and here I’m torn between the short and sharp Boogie Woogie of Trouble Knows Where I Live, which is so good I’d love to hear it go on another 5 or 6 minutes and I still couldn’t be bored; then there’s the prescient and acutely observed album closer Things’ll Get Worse which is a blast and surely destined to be the last but one song of any future gigs.
But, there’s also one more song that sounds like I’ve heard it all my life ….. the groovalicious (Don’t Go Down To) Cicero; to some degrees a literal story about the singer’s feelings about the town on the Southside of Chicago which in prohibition times was a haven for the bootleggers and other ne’er-do-wells; but we all have a Cicero in our lives that our Mothers warned us against ….. but temptation is a whole other thing!
Okay; Jeff Dale and The South Woodlawners have been around for aeons; but via BLOOD RED MOON they and he have been a fantastic new discovery for me and I can’t recommend this album highly enough.

Released 12th August 2022


RMHQ Radio Show @NovaRadioNE Ep:13

RMHQ Radio Show Ep:13
Nova Radio NE

As I say every week on the show; ‘Time is getting away from me’ ….. thirteen shows in and there’s still loads of acts I love but haven’t managed to play yet.
Yet again we brought you another eclectic mix of all things Roots and Americana; including a couple of EXCLUSIVE first plays of new singles, albums you didn’t know you needed and a few oldies to remind you why you like this kind of music.

John Lee HookerDimples
Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie)Jumpin’ For Joy
Blinddog Smokin’If I Died Today
Matt OwensDrinking By The River
Billy HectorLazy Man
Gretchen PetersLove That Makes a Cup of Tea
Danny and the Champions of the WorldStill Believe
Garrison StarrThe Train That’s Bound For Glory
Anton & The ColtsBoy Living For the Weekend
Harry Dean Stanton & The Cheap DatesPromised Land
Lucinda WilliamsLines Around Your Eyes
Slaid CleavesHorseshoe Lounge
Laura Benitez & The HeartachePlaid Shirt
Skinny DyckI’m on The Upswing
Rob Heron & Tea Pad OrchestraShe Hypnotised Me
Hector GannettBlue Murder
LindisfarneMeet Me on The Corner
Townes Van ZandtHonky Tonkin’
Pam TillisLast Summer’s Wine
Low Cut ConnieAll These Kids Are Way Too High
Mary Chapin CarpenterPassionate Kisses
Jay ByrdLosers Like Me
Amanda ShiresBad Behaviour
Scott MatthewsNew Skin
Amelia WhiteHome Sweet Hotel
Chris HillmanFallen Favourite
Blue Rose CodeLove Is
Billy BraggAll You Fascists Born to Lose
Ethan HannaPassenger Seat

Amanda Shires TAKE IT LIKE A MAN

Amanda Shires
Take It Like a Man
ATO Records

A Brave, Cathartic and At Times Difficult Album

Amanda Shires’ recorded output has always veered from an obvious path – she’s got a unique tremulous shift in her voice and her arrangements have always been somewhat adrift from the norm.
On this, her seventh release, there’s yet more musical invention and a lot of raw confessions too, while at the same time being an unmistakably Shires release.
“Hawk For The Dove” which opens proceedings is reminiscent to these ears in style and production to the recent Jackson+Sellers Glam Rock sound; albeit with a touch more ‘Kate Bush’ in the vocal delivery and a strong expression of desire in the lyricism
Come on put pressure on me
I won’t break
I want you in all the worst ways
Hold me down, feel me up”.

Title track “Take It Like a Man” places that quivering voice against what appears to be at first, a more radio-friendly setting, but piercing fiddle and the transformation of her vocals into more of a powerful cry to deliver the continuing bird metaphors …
Like a common loon I started hearing birds
Birdsong everywhere a lark in the shower
From the night to the morning after
Warblers and wrens, hymn at my throat
Shook and quivering, I could have crowed
Oh I could have crowed”

Amanda Shires is clearly looking for a new voice; both musically and lyrically and it’s a voice which finds its gender fluidity and strength here through the lyrical zoomorphism.

Tinkling piano brings in “Empty Cups” and there’s the trick of placing lyrical heartbreak against a pretty tune
I was always a sucker for your wrist at my cheek
There was a time when I was your everything
And I tried so hard to make myself clear
Somehow life interfered

lush strings pile on the epic ‘feel’ yet so very personal pathos.
This one’s a tough lyrical listen – as is “Don’t Be Alarmed” which follows – finger-picked guitar, piano and washes of keys set against the message of
At least be a witness
See it to the end

it’s clear that this is a cathartic release for Shires.
Things don’t get any cheerier on “Fault lines” with the lyrical figure of
You could say it’s all my fault
We just couldn’t gеt along

“Here He Comes” treads equally emotionally tricky territory in a pumping Glam-Rock style and makes the admission that
Oh no, we’re never in control
although the implication that what follows is somewhat dangerous makes this another deceptively dark song set to a vibrant melody.

There’s further soul-baring on “Bad Behavior;” which becomes another 80’s radio flavoured song (with added yelps) and begs the question
Call it bad behavior
Maybe I like strangers
So what if I do?”

lyrically this raises loads of questions and there’s a psycho-sexual degree paper waiting to be written.

Things take a slight upward turn emotionally on “Stupid Love” – an acknowledgement of and search for feelings lived and past
Now I wander late into the night
In search of that same moonlight
Where I caught you

this one’s suitably set against a Philly Soul groove and Shire’s vocal delivery has a fractured soulful uniqueness that matches the message.
The soulful path continues with “Lonely At Night” although this one’s much more “Dusty in Memphis” than the Philadelphia Soul of the preceding track – to these ears there’s a huge relief to hear the line
But I want us to be alright
after the pain of mid-album – lyrically and musically this is full-on Dusty – and very good it is too…but then things end with the ominous ”Everything Has Its Time” with the lines
For worse or for better, nothing lasts forever
Everything has it’s time

musically it’s elegiac and resigned in tone too, with sweeping strings and gentle melody.

I have to confess, as Amanda Shires does throughout this album, I found this a difficult listen – not musically – it’s beautifully put together and sounds absolutely fantastic – but lyrically, there’s a huge elephant in the room that I couldn’t overlook and I kept making comparisons with Richard and Linda Thompsons’ famous ‘break up album’, “Shoot Out The Lights.”
It’s definitely a bravely cathartic and at times difficult release that’s for sure, but I felt I was eavesdropping on something that’s none of my business.
Something that was so incredibly personal.
As art, it achieves its purpose magnificently in creating the discomfort in living a relationship, especially in the dichotomy between the wonderfully immediate musicality and the darkness that emerges when one looks closely.
Challenging times have created challenging art, so that’s the big take I get from this.

Review by Nick Barber
Released 05th August 2022