Whitehorse I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying Six Shooter Records
A Clever Twist on the Traditional Country Duet Heartbreak Formula
I have, and still play the first two Whitehorse albums; but somewhere afterwards I must have dropped off their radar as I had no idea they had released a further four albums making this one; their seventh. There’s something absolutely timeless, without ever sounding ‘old fashioned’ about the way Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet, not just arrange and record their songs; but the intricate way they intertwine their voices in a way I associate the very best of all time. An almighty Twang opens the first song If The Loneliness Won’t Kill Me that instantly catches the attention, and sets Whitehorse apart from any perceived modern contemporaries. Then of course there’s the song itself being a whip smart Country Song of the Deluxe variety, not least when Melissa sings, “If the loneliness won’t kill me Then the good times surely will.“ Sadly this song, nor any of the others here will trouble the CMA committee but that’s their loss; not ours. This immediatly followed by Luke Doucet taking over lead singing duties with the heartbreaking I Might Get Over This (But I Won’t Stop Loving You) which has elements of not just Gram and Emmylou to it; but George and Tammy too, especially the way the song has emotional highs and lows. I have a Gretchen Peters t-shirt that reads “Sad Songs Make Me Happy” and that is very much the subtext here ….. sad songs for sad people who need to know they aren’t alone. As I’d expected there are musical surprises around every corner; not least the fast and furious Honky Tonker; Manitoba Bound which features some red hot guitar licks worthy of Albert Lee at his finest; 6 Feet Away also has some incredible guitar playing in it; but the way Melissa and Luke blend their voices like the finest whiskey to sing about the way various ‘lockdowns’ adversely affected lovers around the world; and as the adage goes … “only the strong survived … to love again.” I thought album closer, Lock It Down may follow a similar pandemic path; but thankfully it doesn’t; as it’s Melissa singing about the tattered state of her current relationship in a way I’d normally associate with Loretta or perhaps Laura Cantrell; and when her voice soars on the chorus I swear I get a shiver down my spine each and every time. While not exactly when you know Melissa and Luke’s joint musical background; none the less Bet The Farm is a clever and articulate take on a traditional Country love song; and my little world is all the better for hearing it; and knowing it will be there whenever I need to hear it. By now I’m in ‘Favourite Song territory; and it’s as difficult as it comes; simply because at one time or another, every song here could be a Hit Single; apart from now! Apart from Community Radio around the world I don’t know where you’d hope or expect to hear wonderful Country songs like these … you know; The Real Deal. But I do have a couple of Favourites from four that somehow manage to stand out from a very good pack. The way Melissa sings the beautiful Leave Me As You Found Me, is bound to melt the coldest of hearts; and the quirky Division 5 has Luke filing a ‘missing person’ report with the Mounties years after his lover has left and moved to a town not far away; but he’s too afraid to visit …. so wants the cops to do the heavy lifting for him. Certainly not the type of song I associate with Whitehorse and its constituent parts; but a fun heartbreaker that makes me smile every time I hear it. I very nearly selected the Patsy Cline nod; Sanity TN, mostly because of the sublime guitar interludes but Melissa’s delivery choked me up earlier; so it’s up there with the best and a last minute contender. Then, there is the majestic Leave Me As You Found Me; which has Melissa at her very very best not just tugging at our heartstrings but squeezing every single corpuscle until we can hardly breathe, “Don’t leave your rubbish, your baggage behind Don’t leave these thoughts in the back of my mind Dust off my heart, won’t you please just be kind And let me let you go,” and of course; not forgetting the way that pedal-steel haunting cuts through the pathos like an icy wind. So, we have what can only be described as a contemporary twist on the traditional Country Duet formula; and it’s absolutely perfect listening for the times we find ourselves in.
Blurring the Lines Between The Old South and The New West.
There’s a very blurred line between what we know as Americana and what we really want to believe is Country Music; not the Hard Rock with a Cowboy hat and a pedal-steel version that fills up the airwaves; but the real heartfelt stuff we associate with the Greats from Hank and George to Vince and Brad. JD Clayton’s debut album comes fully formed and sits very comfortably in both of those camps. Serving an apprenticeship playing every instrument at one time or another in his father’s church; Clayton comes at you with a clarity and honesty we don’t hear enough these days. Coming in at less than a minute and a half, the delightful Hello, Good Morning opens the album with Clayton singing along with only his acoustic guitar and some birdsong, and closes with creaking floorboards. This is followed by the most commercial song here; American Millionaire has JD being ruefully honest about his ambitions within the Country industry; but there’s a pathos in not just his voice but the arrangement too that sets this way, way apart from the gung-ho swagger I hear on Country Radio. Clayton wants success; but knows it will come from sheer hard work …. and not just pot luck. For a debut album; the songs and even sequencing are fully formed and incredibly well thought out. Clayton’s idea of a ‘love song’ owes more to Townes and Guy than it does to Toby or Tim; he sings from the heart on Cotton Candy Songs and Different Kind of Simple Life, in a way that will genuinely touch the hearts of listeners who will come back time and time again to listen to a song that could have been written about their own lives. The Press Release states these songs are from the crossroads where ‘The Old South meets the New West’ and I can’t disagree at all; not least the skewed passion in Long Way From Home or Midnight Special which sounds like it was recorded after a drunken night listening to Hank Williams, Little Feet and John Fogerty on heavy rotation; then there’s the album closer Sleepy Night in Nashville where JD slows things back down to a slow waltz beat, as his voice crackles like he’s on a 1950’s radio broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry. Goldmine is a song that will pass by many listeners the first few times that they play LONG WAY FROM HOME, but one day when the stars align, they will find themselves staring blankly at the speakers wondering where this beautiful missive came from. It’s been a rare pleasure discovering this album; not least because of two very different songs; that I can’t decide between as my actual Favourite. Beauty Queen sounds like a first take; where the passion and intensity just can’t be replicated and no amount of twiddling in the booth can replicate that release of tension from the singer/songwriter who was probably directing the other band members with no more than eye contact. The other is Heartaches After Heartache which will send a shiver down your spine if you’ve ever had a love affair that went sour. For all his music is very special indeed; I get the feeling that JD Clayton is the type of guy who will sit quietly at his table drinking a Lite Beer and shooting the breeze with anyone around him; then get called on stage and blow those very same minds into the stratosphere!
Emily Scott Robinson, Violet Bell & Alisa Amador Jumpin’ Hot Club The Globe Newcastle
Friday 27th January 2023
For a variety of (health related) reasons I’m still struggling to leave the house to go to gigs; and tonight I had a real dilemmas as I had the choice of three to go to …. all very different all intriguing in their own ways. I chose the smaller gig; mostly because I’m in love with Emily Scott Robinson’s album BUILT ON BONES and the Jumpin’ Hot Club’s new favourite venue the Globe pub has great acoustics (and lighting). The first surprise of the evening was walking through the door on the stroke of 7.30 to find the duo Violet Bell already on stage AND the venue was full. As the first song closed singer Lizzy Ross introduced herself and the long and convoluted story behind the songs they would be singing; primarily about the mythological; creature Selkie. The couple flit seamlessly between Folk, Bluegrass and even Americana. It became evident that tonight wasn’t going to a ‘normal gig’ as Violet Bell were soon joined by Emily Scott Robinson for a song at the end of their charming 40 minute set. Following a short ten minute break, Alisa Amador wound her way through the cramped seats, plugged in her funky looking Guild guitar and then entranced us right from the off with a Country infused version of Johnny Mercer’s PS I Love You; during which she actually mimicked a trumpet solo! Much like the couple earlier; Alisa never stopped smiling as she told her stories which preceded her ‘Latin, funky, Folky, Jazzy Folk’ songs (her Dads description apparantly). Somewhere in the middle of her short set she sang a beautiful song called Alone, which at her request featured ‘finger clicks’ from the audience and; do you know what everyone (inc me!) joined in and sounded like a field of crickets alongside Alisa’s soaring vocals. The introduction is far too long and complicated; but it helped make sense of a young Latino woman from Brooklyn redefining Radiohead’s High and Dry as a weird Mexican infused piece of lo-fi that made me write ‘Swoon’ in my notes. As the notes were still hanging in the air Lizzy and Emily joined her to add honey drenched harmonies to some beautiful Spanish language songs; only for the other half of Violet Bell, Omar Ruiz-Lopez joined the trio to add fiddle and guitar to the songs. Even if I didn’t know what she was singing about; the audience sat entranced and when they ended the applause was deafening. That first 90 minutes flew by in the blink of an eye. Finally it was the time for Emily Scott Robinson to take centre stage and …. well …. she was absolutely wonderful. Her first song was Cheap Seats and was about the night she went to the Ryman to see John Prine AND Bonnie Raitt and could only afford the ‘cheap seats’ but the song itself is a metaphor for life IMHO. Next song (I think) was Hard Way; which was a series of scenarios from her life and those of friends and family …. and got 4 stars in my notes. Emily had been excited earlier in the day to find a piano already on the stage; so included a starkly beautiful version of her Let It Burn; which in my mind was ‘one of those songs’ that make the gig going experience ‘special.’ Emily took to her acoustic guitar again for If Trouble Comes a Lookin’ ….. her ‘Country Cheatin’ song’ and it had a magnificent twist that nobody expected …. judging by the smiles I saw littering the back half of the room. By now I wasn’t totally surprised to see the other three join Emily on stage, with Omar providing fiddle or acoustic guitar while Lizzy and Aliza provided honeyed harmonies. The last surprise of the evening was Emily introducing a trio of her songs that had a Shakespearean theme to them; and do you know what? When you knew that, they made sense … but all three are just simply cracking songs.#Shakespeariana ? The evening was meant to end with Men and Moons (my Favourite song on the album btw) but the standing ovation Emily and friends were forced to have a conflab to decide on what next to sing as an encore … which was fun as we got to see Emily actually teaching the trio the chorus live on stage! The song itself, Travelling Mercies was a fabulous end to a fabulous gig.
Jefferson Berry Dreams of Modern Living Self Release
Keenly Observed Contemporary Folk Stories From the Shadows in Our Lives
Oddly enough I’d just been reading an article about why ‘breakthrough artists’ are presumed to be Under 30, or even younger … when all ages now release ‘debut albums;’ Jefferson Berry is a case in point; after being a member of a variety of bands for most of his adult life; Berry finally retired from being a teacher in Pennsylvania and is taking the opportunity to become a fully fledged Singer-Songwriter. I’d never have guessed that he was in that upper age bracket from the way he sings; and indeed writes his acutely observed songs; although with hindsight … you have to have lived a life to have the confidence and ability to write and construct a song like album opener, Locks & Guns. I’ve heard quite a few; too many songs of this ilk coming out of America in the last few years; but there’s something really sharp and honest in the way Berry has constructed his story that makes this really special indeed. The songs carry on in a similar vein; keenly observed stories from the minutiae of our lives; but stories that many of us miss due to the hurly burly of our own day to day lives. Berry takes a bit of a Left turn on the pseudo politico Ballad of Sammy Rodriguez; one of those songs about a character is all too familiar in the US and even UK in 2023. Don’t be underwhelmed by the simplicity of the production here; as we know …. one man and a guitar with songs like these can be louder than a band with with a whole bank of speakers; when that band have nothing worthwhile to say. Jefferson Berry most certainly has something to say; and ‘say it’ he most certainly does with Sand In My Shoes and Sleeping In Public; where he stands up for the downtrodden that we all too regularly ignore …. but shouldn’t; and if you don’t have a heavy and guilty heart after hearing both; you must have a heart of stone. Where Mrs Magpie to hear these songs she would sigh and say “There aren’t many laughs, are there.” Which is her way of saying these deceptively simple Folk Songs are serious and even earnest; but we live in a world were someone has to ‘tell it like it is’ don’t we? When you’re not paying attention, Jefferson slips in a couple of great cover songs too; I totally missed recognising his stark version of the Elton John song Come Down in Time from my favourite album of his, Tumbleweed Connection … and the way he now delivers Bernie Taupin’s sage words will send a shiver down your spine …. “In the quiet silent seconds I turned off the light switch And I came down to meet you in the half light the moon left While a cluster of night jars sang some songs out of tune A mantle of bright light shone down from a room…“ The other, Ben Arnold’s Puerto Rico I don’t know at all; but imagine Otis Gibbs or Rod Picott singing a Harry Chapin song and you well get the imagery and annunciation Berry employs. For my Favourite song I’m torn between two songs that sit side by side; Doubting Thomas and Rendezvous With Destiny. Two very different stories and subjects; but two songs that felt like a punch to the jaw. The latter song comes across like it could be from the back catalogue of one of my heroes; Alan Hull (from the legendary Lindisfarne) who I’m on a course of re-discovery again; but I’m 100% sure Jefferson Berry has never heard of before; but the two are hewn from the same block. The other; Doubtin’ Thomas is a real punchy heartstring tugger, with punky acoustic guitar and sounds like Berry spoke to my Mother about me the day before putting pen to paper; and I’m sure there will be plenty of others out there think it could be about them too. Perhaps it’s a case of ‘right place/right time’ when listening to these dark and introspective observational Folk Songs; and a on a sunny day in July I would certainly have passed them by …. but during a cold and dank January and February they make the perfect soundtrack.
Impressive and Delicately Deep Album From North Tyneside and Given To The World.
As I’m out of touch with the bourgeoning local scene of young musicians around the North East these days; so Hector Gannet aka singer-songwriter Aaron Duff from across the water in North Tyneside first came to my attention only a couple of months ago via RMHQ writer William Graham who promoted a couple of his/their gigs. I was immediatly engrossed with his music on YouTube and even bought his EP, INTO THE DEEP from which I played all four tracks on my radio show on the run up to Christmas. Not really knowing what to expect this mornings’ first play was really exciting as I both wallowed in the beauty the overall ‘sound’ and trying to dissect his lyrics and stories at the same time. The album starts with the enigmatic Emmanuel Head, a deep and almost poetic tale that showcased Duff’s beguiling Northern tones, which he barely tries to disguise. For the older generation like myself; there’s more than a hint of latter day Lindisfarne and/or Alan Hull solo work; albeit with much stronger production values and a ‘tighter’ backing band …. and that all flows like the River Tyne at high tide; through the rest of the album. Younger listeners, of course are unlikely to have heard of either Lindisfarne or Alan Hull; unless they have access to their Grandparents record collection; so Hector Gannet will sound fresh and unlike almost anything else in their circle at the moment. Duff has a magical way with words; which belies his tender years; City in the Sand and Last of The Buffalo are both intricately beautiful and conjure up imagery that remind me of John Lennon circa Mind Games too. Hector Gannet is only one part of Aaron Duff’s persona; as he’s more than capable of stripping any or all of these songs back to the sinew as a solo singer and you can hear that raw honesty in The Wailing Wall where it is just a voice and a guitar taking your breath away. It’s no huge surprise to find Duff turning to the Geordie Legend’s back catalogue for a song to cover; but he hasn’t really gone for the obvious by choosing one of Hull’s solo works; the stunning Blue Murder; and the arrangement really, really does the song justice …. and is only a tiny slice of good luck away from being a hit single IMHO. Much like one of my other favourite local acts; Lake Poets; Aaron Duff doesn’t just ‘write about what he knows’ but delves into stories from family members; which is what I guess he’s done with the powerful Waiting For The Whistle and the tragically beautiful Last of The Buffalo which is such a clever and intricate story (and arrangement) you’d think he had been doing this writing lark for twenty odd years. I’m probably not invested enough yet to have a single Favourite Song; although I have found myself accidentally singing the chorus to Blue Murder out loud and in public! But, for these purposes I’m going to point you towards a couple of Duff’s own songs; the fabulous Eighth Day which takes us back into the Folk Rock territory of my youth, and Duff’s plaintive vocal sound will squeeze your heartstrings until your eyes bulge. The other is the final track; and don’t think it’s there by accident as the intensely delicate Water Lilies is one of those songs that songwriters are defined by. It would have been all too easy to go out with something bombastic or even ‘catchy’ ….. but Aaron has kept ‘the best for last.’ I was impressed by that EP I bought last year; but it appears Aaron Duff aka Hector Gannet’ has ‘s songwriting has matured and grown in the intervening months; and a special word of thanks has to go out to whoever did the production and engineering for this album; as it’s rather splendid and brings out tones in Duff’s voice that I don’t expect he knew were there.