Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records
Captivating Country Folk Songs For a Fine Summer’s Evening.
Like many self-appointed arbiters of good taste; or music reviewers (you decide) it’s not uncommon for a review to followed by numerous e-mails stating “If you like that; you will like us…..can I send a copy of our latest release?”
Me being the musical tart that I am I rarely say “no”; so when this was offered after our latest Jeremy Nail missive I was intrigued; as he’s not an obvious act to compare yourself too; and songstress Hadley McCall Thackston from Decatur, Georgia sounds nowt like him at all; yet I think I’d love to see the pair performing together one evening.
“Pray tell, Why is that”? You ask.
The fragile opening song Butterfly strangely enough made me think of those early Nanci Griffith LP’s I still cherish. There is something delightfully innocent in the way Hadley recounts an almost poetic tale over a winsome fiddle, mandolin and acoustic guitar.
I was instantly hooked.
Then Ms Thackston cranks up the volume to Four on the snappy Ellipsis which follows; and even during that magical first play last week I was ensnared in the silken web this young lady weaves with her stories.
The accompanying Press Release describes her music as Porch to Porch music; and I can see why as the imagery this talented young woman conjures up combines the smells and sounds of not just Georgia but South Carolina where she now lives too; in the way you feel the evening heat on your shoulders as the sun comes down as family sit around sipping cool drinks in the delightful Change and later on Ghost, as well as plenty of others.
Don’t be deceived though; this isn’t a ‘simple album’ at all; the production may make the songs sound that way; but there’s a whole lot of majestic playing behind Hadley as she delivers the haunting Redbird and Devil Or Angel, which has to heard to be believed. Trust me!
It appears that Hadley is a very shy person by nature; and was originally cajoled into putting one of her songs onto Facebook; so it would be a huge disappointment if I was never to witness her singing the gorgeous Last Mountain Waltz or especially Somehow played live in an intimate setting.
Choosing a ‘Favourite’ here is as hard as ever with the ‘bonus track’ Slow Burn certainly being a contender but I’m going for the fiery Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush) which has a delightful danceable beat to it and some fascinating lyrics on a quirky love song.
There’s a whole lot to like here from a 25 year old on her debut album; as she’s a fine storyteller with a pearlescent yet slightly worn around the edges voice……again; not unlike a young Nanci Griffith; but I can easily see her appealing to the hipsters who love Fleet Foxes, First Aid Kit and even Ed Sheeran; as well as our friend Jeremy Nail of course.
Released 15th June 2018
THIS SIDE OR THE OTHER
Black Hen Music
Founding Father of Americana Shows No Signs of Slowing Up.
Like many of my favourite albums from the days before the Interweb was in it’s ascendancy, most came via ‘word of mouth’ and David Olney’s Live in Holland CD was one of those and will still occasionally get dusted off and let me drift off into a world of wizened Americana characters that only he could possibly invent and bring to life.
His other album (EP?) that I love is Film Noir from 2011 which would have been the last time I saw him play live; which is a damn shame.
Then of course there are numerous individual songs that if compiled onto some kind of Retrospective may end up being a triple album; and then have to leave a couple out.
So; any new release is worthy of my time and means I have to put time aside to listen ‘properly,’ with no distractions.
Sadly that is today when I am painfully deaf in one ear, so will pretend this is a Mono release (joke.)
Opening track Always The Stranger, is trademark David Olney with a sweet Texicana tune masking a bittersweet love story that is sung by world weary voice; and it’s certainly the type of song that makes you want to sit back and wallow in whatever the narrator has to say.
Wall which follows has a Native American feel to it, and as the title suggests it’s about ‘building walls’ both real and metaphorical; which is a tender subject across the border lands of America and Mexico where many of Olney’s characters reside.
As you will expect from one of the founding fathers of of Americana; this is a song that has much to say about modern history as it does the past; intertwining both with grace and hope.
This imagery of ‘walls’ continues throughout THIS SIDE OR THE OTHER with the beautiful title track and Death Will Not Divide Us both using that invisible imagery on both songs, making them enjoyable on many different levels; but making you continuously change your mind as to what they are really about; which is quite some trick for a songwriter.
Even by David Olney’s standards I Spy is a dark song; almost ‘talking Blues’ poetic in a Kerouac style that has had me trying to unravel it’s many mysteries this morning; but have decided to just let it be what it is……. a riddle in a puzzle set to music.
Again; by David Olney’s ‘standards’ this is as much a Country album as he’s produced in many years; with Western imagery hauntingly making Stand Tall and Border Town sound like they should be on the soundtrack for a Tarantino re-imagining of Butch Cassidy.
For a man of his advancing years, David Olney can still write a love song that will send shivers down your back; which brings us to the two songs vying for Favourite Song Status; Running From Love with it’s ghostly harmonica accompaniment would easily win the title on many albums; but is just pipped at the post by Open Your Heart (and Let Me In) which will touch the hearts of every romantic who hears it.
Then, just when you think you know exactly where David Olney is coming from he throws a perfect curve ball with the finale; a simple and very rootsy song called She’s Not There…….hang on a minute!
Yes; it actually is the Zombies pop hit from the 60’s but turned on its head, with David doing for this what Joe Cocker did for With a Little Help From My Friends, way back when.
Perhaps I should change my choice of Favourite Track; but will actually keep this song our little secret.
Such is the quality and density of David Olney’s songwriting I could probably write a completely different review of these songs tomorrow and again next week. I will now leave it to you.
Released August 24th 2018
SILVER RABBIT (Single)
I got really excited when the first Maximo Park album came out many moons ago; but subsequent releases by the band and as here; lead singer and all around Northern Renaissance Man Paul Smith have passed me by as they have been a bit too ‘modern for me’.
That appears to have changed with this exciting slice of Garage Rock which comes at you like Jim Morrison fronting ? and the Mysterions.
It’s fair to say I have fallen in love with this hypnotic 3 minutes of glorious and undiluted Pop Music.
There’s a whole new album, DIAGRAMS in the offing for an October 26th release and I’m already giddy with anticipation.
The Bottle Rockets
Yes, we get inundated with new music from fresh faced artistes every day and we love bringing them to you…..but every now and again the Oldies come along and re-write the rule book…..ladies and gentlemen; I give you…..The Bottle Rockets!
Here’s a little teaser from their new album BIT LOGIC which will be released on October 12th.
Watch this space kids.
OUTLAW FOR YOU (Single)
Any day that starts with an e-mail saying that a new Alejandro Escovedo album is in the post and here’s a link to the new single has to be a good one; right?
Much like some of his haughtier and more famous peers Alejandro is prone to change the style and direction of his music at the drop of a hat (a concert featuring him and a string quartet still makes a few of my friends go starry eyed).
The new album The Crossing (Sept 14th on Yep Roc) is themed around immigrants and immigration which is a red hot topic across the world; and knowing Mr Escovedo I doubt he will pull any punches….here’s hoping.
It’s taken a while; but I love his new found back to his teenage days gutsy, rootsy and occasionally punky approach to his Alt. Country songs and this punchy new single Outlaw For You ticks every box in my guide to Rock and indeed Roll…..the Kid still has it, as if there was ever any doubt!
Blazing (Hell is Naked – soundtrack)
A Charmingly Tough Soundtrack
“Mean” Mary James is one tough cookie. When she very young, Mary’s parents lived frontier style, building their own log cabin in the Minnesota woods, where Mary’s mother was forced to shoot a seven-foot tall black bear that attacked their camp. Mary wrote her first song at the age of six (“Mean Mary from Alabam,” which gave her the nickname,) played banjo and sang on a television show until she was nine years old, and later survived a car accident which nearly destroyed her vocal cords. After overcoming that, she began touring and playing music full time, both in the states and overseas, and has now won enough awards to easily overfill a mantlepiece. But Mary James is not even close to slowing down.
Blazing, her latest album, is a “soundtrack” of sorts to Hell is Naked, a mystery novel co-written by Mary and her mother, Jean. Now, I have yet to read the novel, but can attest most assuredly to some fine music on this album. Mary’s voice is in fine form on these songs, and she picks a mean banjo and plays some wonderful gypsy fiddle on several tracks. The instrumentals are some of my favorite tracks on this album. From the gypsy-like “Lights, Gun, Action,” the charming “Rainy,” and the foot-stomping downhill race of “Blazing,” itself, Mary knows how to create a mood with sparse instrumentation. The stirring take of the classic folk song “Rock of Ages” gives Mary a choice to showcase her emotive voice as well as more exemplary banjo playing. Mary covers quite a range of styles on this album, ending it with the song “I Face Somewhere,” where Mary plays heavily reverbed electric guitar and gets a little bit of help from her band, the Contrarys.
Hearing these songs, and the varied emotions and situations they deal with, definitely makes me want to read the book. Looking forward to it. Oh, and if you ever get the chance to see Mean Mary live, please do so, she puts on a solid rockin’ show.
Review courtesy Roy Peak
Released July 6th 2018
Ethereal, Claustrophobic and Misty-Eyed Songs For Romantics Everywhere.
Jeremy Nail’s last album My Mountain in 2016 completely took us by surprise at RMHQ and was hardly out of our stereo for months; regardless of what shiny new disc was meant to be reviewed; and obviously it made our Annual Top 10 that year.
Time moves on and a lot of misty eyed singer-songwriters have graced our office in the last two years; but every now and again; normally when I’m feeling sad and lonely (it does happen) and the handsome young Texan can always make me at feel at ease with the dark edges of the world.
Then early last week a plain brown envelope arrived just as I was about to leave for work, so I left it on my desk alongside 4 or 5 others; and there it stayed until yesterday when I saw a link to a review on Twitter!
Affronted at not knowing about this release I was just about to pen a stinging letter to his Press Guru when I finally opened the aforementioned padded envelope.
Everything was put on hold as I carefully slid the CD into the player and sat back nervous and expectant……waiting to see if he could come close to that previous Masterwork.
Perhaps it’s my memory or the change of producer or just a maturing but opening song Abiquiu has a warm glow to it; even though it’s a sad tale of a mythical town somewhere unnamed that is dying like so many others across America. But here, Nail finds a tiny glint of hope and ends the song “Here in Gods Country/There is no glory without suffering/You dance between the two/on a chance you make it through/Abiquiu” then the title is repeated over and over again as the hypnotic guitars fade to dust.
Yep…..the kid still has it!
The title track Live Oak follows and some very precise and neat guitar picking takes us in a more Countrified direction than I’d expected. OK it’s not YEE HAW Country; but Nail’s beautiful narrative about a real tree in Austin Texas which was deliberately poisoned but saved may or may not be a parable about his own life and illness, and that’s Country enough for me.
For me Jeremy has a poets soul and very distinctive voice that washes over me and seeps into my heart whenever I hear him; and if you have never heard him before you are in for a rare treat when you hear Rolling Dice, the deceptively gorgeous So Long Yesterday and more importantly Other Side Of Time; which will have you tilting your ears towards the speakers as he sings in a loud whisper as an ethereal guitar and some angelic drumming fill the spaces behind his carefully crafted words.
In this highly technological world I’ve played this album on a number of different systems including my olde Technics Hi-Fi which has been long banished to the conservatory but strangely; for me songs like Freedom’s Bell and Fields of Our Fathers sound best when played through the tiny and tinny speakers on my laptop; as it gives them an extraordinarily claustrophobic sound that suits the dark and brooding way the songs are delivered.
Not for the first time in recent years; this is a complete album with no nods towards commercialism; this is very much the way Jeremy Nail intended this record to sound and be pieced together and the result is both brittle and beautiful; with one song in particular taking my breath away the first time I heard it; and even today I’ve had to repeat it three times in succession and the story (alongside others) is still unravelling; and I’m sure it will for years to come.
So, the haunting Sea Of Lights is my Favourite Track here; but you will have your own and will cherish it like a first born child’s first mittens or shoes.
For what sounds like a simple Country-Folk/Singer-Songwriter album; according to the sleeve notes there’s a hell of a lot going on behind Jeremy Nail’s voice; but it’s testament to the delicate production, engineering and mastering that you hardly notice them at all; but would miss all those extras if they weren’t there.
Released August 17th 2018
FEAR, FILTH, DIRT and DEATH.
Regular readers will know by now that we have very eclectic musical tastes here at RMHQ and we aren’t afraid to get involved with leftish and Socialist politics; so we didn’t hesitate when our mate Rory McDade got in touch asking if we would help promote this single in aid of the Grenfell Tower victims in North London.
Even without it being for such a great and very humane cause; it’s a mighty powerful Sub-Punk rant that I absolutely love (when played EXTRA LOUD!).
Then again; if the music isn’t quite your ‘thang’ we heartily recommend that you send a pound/dollar or two to the Just Giving page anyways…..every penny counts, and these people need your help today…..not tomorrow.
Here’s a recent piece in The Guardian to help jog your memory; if it needs jogging.
SLOW DOWN E.P
Four Exhilarating, Gritty and Honest Songs From Young Durham Lass.
I actually missed the push on Holly Rees’ single Magpie because we were gallivanting in NYC and it’s actually haunted me ever since; mostly because she’s a local lass from the Durham Dales; but also because it’s a cracking slice of simple yet very articulate Folk that Rocks!
Thankfully I can right that wrong today as it’s the opening track on her new EP. For a simple Acoustic song, producer Matt Dunbar and this delightful young lady certainly create a ‘big noise’ and a noise that deserves to be heard btw.
Sometimes it’s not easy to differentiate between Folk Music and what I prefer to refer as ‘Singer-Songwriters’; and I tend to favour the latter so that’s how I will describe Holly’s approach to her songwriting and singing; it has one foot in the past with Impossible Rules which sounds a bit like singers such as Judie Tzuke or Joan Armatrading who I would see on OGWT and then rush out and buy their latest LPs from Woolworths on Saturday afternoon in the 1970’s; but the sparkling Missing Out will most certainly appeal to fans of Heidi Talbot and Elie Goulding and the current glut of gritty and feisty young women who are headlining on stages at Festivals and Universities across the length and breadth of the UK.
With only four songs to choose from and each with it’s own golden merits; selecting a Favourite Song hasn’t been easy; but with a deep breath and my fingers crossed I’m going for track #2 In My Arms; a darkly beautiful, deeply personal bittersweet love song that felt like a punch to the heart when I first heard it.
Who knows what the future holds for Holly Rees; with a little bit of luck and a couple of plays on Radio 6, she most certainly has the voice and songs to move up the ladder of success with ease; and she most certainly deserves it.
Released August 10th 2018
COUP de GRACE
A Battle Cry From the Trenches of Indie Rock?
I’m not sure where Liverpudlian Miles Kane fits into the current Indie Rock pantheon; primarily because I’m no longer a hormonal teenager and neither are my two sons; but he certainly grabs the headlines alongside his household name besties; and more importantly he even has his own bespoke clothing range with Fred Perry.
But; here at RMHQ it’s ‘all about the music’ isn’t it?
I have to confess that any song; or in this case an album that starts with the Battle Cry……1, 2, 3 …FOUR! is always going to go down well in this office and opening track Too Little Too Late doesn’t disappoint on any level; mixing Post-Punk Scouse Rock with the best of Britpop, as it does so very well.
This is immediately followed with Kane’s ‘hit single’ (I’m not sure how that is actually defined in 2018) Cry On My Guitar; an unashamed T Rex pastiche that even had Mrs. Magpie tapping the beat out on her knee and nodding along to the beat on a recent car journey. A cool song that is lifted from the pack by Kane’s bright as a button vocals and some muscular crashing guitars; coupled to an infectious melody that does it no harm at all.
(Son #2 describes it as ‘the best song Oasis never recorded’).
There’s a little bit of everything here; with the uber-cool ballad Killing The Joke mingling with the modern psychedelia of the title track Coup De Grace and The Wrong Side of Life while BritPop comes through loud and clear on the punchy Silverscreen and then Something to Rely On which closes things very nicely indeed.
It would have been all too easy to choose Cry On My Guitar as our Favourite Track; or perhaps Kane’s attempt at a James Bond soundtrack The Wrong Side of Life, but I’m going to be a bit contrary and point you to the slow and sultry Loaded which is slightly different from everything else here, with it’s Urban American back-beat, Beatlesesque harmonies and warm, fuzzy guitars.
I’ve now played COUP DE GRACE three times; each time has been an absolute blast each time; with Kane somehow reliving not just my own musical youth (T Rex, The Faces, Undertones, Icicle Works etc.) but son #2’s too (Oasis, Shed 7, Kulashaker and even a bit of early Blur in the shadows too) while making an album that is as sharp as a dart and aimed at a young demographic whose parents own records by all of the above.
For a man my age it’s been great sport playing ‘spot the influence’ on this album; but that’s not really fair on young Mr. Kane; because I remember my big brother once giving me a history lesson when I played Electric Warrior on Christmas Day 1971; and much to my horror meticulously picked it apart…..but hey! It’s only Rock & Roll……enjoy, enjoy, ENJOY!
Released August 10th 2018