Georgia Thunderbolts CAN WE GET A WITNESS

Georgia Thunderbolts
Can We Get a Witness
Mascot Records

A Distinctive Sound All of Their Own; Built Around a Gumbo of Southern Rock and British Blues.

As the years have gone by I’ve slowly and surely grown away from the Rock Music that I adored in my teens and twenties; but in mid-Lockdown August 2020 The Georgia Thunderbolts self-titled introductory EP, came out of absolutely nowhere and literally blew my bloody socks right off!
A lot of music has come and gone in the intervening 12 months; but when this CD arrived I was visibly excited …… but sadly; that evening i had to turn it off in the car after three or four tracks.
Why was that? You’re right to ask.
Well; music for me these days is becoming a case of ‘right place/right time’ and has to fit my mood ….. and this didn’t fit the bill at all……. I WAS TOO HAPPY!
That said; I did know that when the right day came along it would be the perfect soundtrack to ‘something’ ….. and ‘something’ was early last week when I’d had a day from Hell at work, which had followed several others in a similar vein …… time to crack out the Georgia Thunderbolts methinks!
Yep ……. opening track Take It Slow was cranked up to 9 and the windows were soon shaking as TJ Lyle; sounding uncannily like Bon Scott outfought guitarist Riley Couzzourt in a virtual knife fight, for the role of gang leader!
It’s still Southern Rock …… but with the emphasis on R.O.C.K and it works.
A year ago I said this about “the pounding beat of Lend a Hand (courtesy of drummer Bristol Perry and bassist Zack Everett) not just set the hair on the back of my neck upright; but had me desperately trying not to ‘head bang’ in the car!” and it was exactly the same that night and the one after …….. me doing my best Wyld Stallyns impression as I drove along the Washington Highway at midnight!
All four tracks from the EP are here; and haven’t aged a day; sitting in comfortably alongside songs both old and new; plus we get a couple of bonafide Rock Classics in Midnight Rider and Be Good to Yourself now covered in swaggering style for the 21st Century; and the world’s a better place for them.
But; this is really about introducing the combined talents of the Georgia Thunderbolts via their own songs; and what songs they are too.
Still proudly wearing their Southern Rock influences on their ripped sleeves; to me, there’s still more than element of of Paul Kossoff in Coouzzourt’s playing style, especially in the rifftastic Half Glass Woman, It’s All Right and the slow and bewitching Set Me Free too; while it’s also not too much of a stretch to imagine the band listening to AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock; in the car on the way to recording the stomping Walk Tall Man and Half Glass Woman too; and that’s meant as high praise indeed.
OK I’m probably going to deep into the ‘influences’ because even at this early stage in their career Georgia Thunderbolts have a distinctive sound all of their own; albeit a Gumbo of all of the above; which is probably the best way to describe the tragically beautiful anthems, Can Get a Witness and So You Want To Change the World; which are both surefire showstoppers when the band play live.
If the band’s own songs hadn’t been so good I probably would have gone for Be Good to Yourself as my Favourite Track here; but that’s hardly fair …. and I do like to be fair.
So, I’ve narrowed it down to two.
One is ‘obvious’ and the other less so; but just as memorable and stunning for songwriters at the beginning of a career.
The ‘obvious’ one is Spirit of a Working Man was my Favourite Track on the EP; a timeless anthem for the everyman among us who is struggling to make ends meet and has gradually had his spirit eroded until all that he has left is ….. well; this song will ring true with many who hear it across the world.
The other, Dancing With The Devil just about shades it for me, as it’s a song that shows that these cats aren’t just ‘one trick ponies’ ……. turning back to the Allman’s for a laid back groove that builds and b builds allowing all five members, Riley Couzzourt, Zach Everett, Bristol Perry, Logan Tolbert and of course TJ Lyle the opportunity to shine, individually and collectively.
Much of the Rock Music that I hear these days is destined to be played in Clubs and Bars; and while there’s nothing wrong with that at all …. in fact I’ve had some of the best nights of my life listening to that type of music in sweaty dungeons that may not have a Fire Certificate; but these songs and the Georgia Thunderbolts themselves seem destined for Arenas or major outdoor venues; while the band may not be top of the bill when that happens; it’s going to take very special band to follow them; and not to be blown off stage!

Released 18th October 2021


Robbin Kapsalis & Vintage#18 SOUL SHAKER

Robbin Kapsalis & Vintage#18
Soul Shaker
Bird Song Records

Rhythm ‘n Blues Drenched Soul With a Firecracker Up it’s Backside!!!!

Momma Magpie used to tell me “You can’t judge a book by the cover,” but thankfully son #4; moi has no problem pre-judging an album by the cover ….. and this sizzler is pretty damn exactly what you’d hope it to be if you stumbled upon it in a record shop.
Even the bass rumble that opens first song Shake It Baby more than hints at what is to follow; and 30 seconds later when Ms Robbin Kapsalis enters the fray, sounding like the kind of woman Momma Magpie used to warn me about …… you just know that this album is going to be a surefire winner.
Shake It Baby not just sizzles but sets light to any emotional baggage you have, as Robbin gives us a Masterclass in danceable S.O.U.L from the Otis Redding and Sharron Jones playbooks.
Robbin and Vintage#18 hardly give you time to catch your breath as song after song will make your feet and hips ache to get on the dancefloor (or kitchen floor!); even the slower tunes, From The Heart of The One and the smouldering You Don’t Deserve Me aren’t the type of brokenhearted love songs to wallow in; they are there to dance your troubles away to; even though Robbin isn’t the type of woman to get on the wrong side of!

By nature I try to avoid using a Press Releases comparisons in my reviews; but can’t disagree when they say Robbin Kapsalis’s influences are Sharon Jones, Koko Taylor, Tina Turner and if you really know what you’re talking about; Gladys Knight too and I’d throw Beth Hart into that heady mix too; especially the exceptional Bluesy reinvention of Fever; and the big n brassy Lost Souls wouldn’t be out of place on any of Beth’s most recent albums either.
From start to finish this album is funky-ass Soul with more than a hint of that rocking sass that we associate with her hometown of Chicago and the smoothness that comes from her adopted home, Atlanta; check out The Cannonball and the majestic Livin’ Large and tell me I’m wrong.
For a studio album recorded during Lockdown; at times there’s claustrophobic energy here that sounds like the studio was a pressure cooker when Boogaloo and Jukin’ were being recorded ……. sweat pouring down the walls and the like?
As the overall standard is so high, there are several songs here that could easily be someone’s Favourite Track, but for me it all boils down to just one; Silver Spoon which is more or less autobiographical for Ms Kapsalis and is as fiery as a sprite with a firecracker up it’s backside …….

This is the second album from Robbin Kapsalis and Vintage#18 and I can’t really begin to tell you how excited it has made me; apart from it’s been a bit like the first time I heard both Sharron Jones and Vintage Trouble; Soul is still alive and well in these capable hands.

Released October 15th 2021


Archie Brown DIDDLEY BOW

Archie Brown
Diddley Bow
Self Released

Geordie-Tijuana Inspired Tunes to Sing If You’re Proud to Be Gray!

It’s probably true of many American acts that I love and adore; that they are slightly ignored and ‘taken for granted’ on their home patch …. as I fear that’s the case with local hero, Archie Brown esq. an esteemed singer and songwriter in the Newcastle patch for well over 50 years; and still going strong.
Although most people reading this review will already know; and no doubt already be fans of the Young Buck; but my dearest hope is that someone reading this hasn’t heard of him and decides to take a punt; based on my words …… because if they do, they are in for a rare treat.
Never blessed with a voice that would get him in a Light Opera at the Tyne Theatre; but as the years have gone by it’s certainly evolved into one that expresses a life well lived and still has stories to tell that are well worth listening to.
Another thing is that as far as I can remember; Archie has never recorded the same album twice; always evolving – never repeating; which brings us to this swinging album that tip-toes in and out of Tex-Mex Border Music territory that I normally associate with Tom Russell, Dave Alvin et al; but with lyrics that are unequivocally British, all with a heart of pure gold.
This second songwriting collaboration with Scouse poet Kevin McKay starts with the dancetastic You Just Don’t Know; a tale of a blue collar worker ‘who is 20 going on 40‘ ending his shift on a Friday afternoon and wondering how his weekend will pan out; and the tension actually crackles in every swinging note.
Like so many other singers and songwriters; with no gigs to play during 2020 Brown and McKay used their time wisely writing and re-writing these songs; and that time was very well spent indeed.
While the music and melodies are all thematically connected; each song is razor sharp; occasionally witty but always incisive and insightful in equal measures.
Clowns could be about the ‘big picture’ politically; but on another night; just about the clowns that surround us day to day; and btw …… apart from Chet Baker; there’s only one other trumpeter I can recognise from 100 yards; and that’s local lad; Steve Nash who adds his sonic tones here with gusto and understated passion; making an already good song ….. great.
As a non-musician I am regularly astounded as to where songwriters get inspiration from; and here Brown and McKay regularly take the mundane things in life and make them sound extraordinary and even exotic when the music is added; try listening to Wasp or Venus of the East and more importantly, Blue Bird more intently than normal; and hear what I’m hearing.
As a man of a certain age myself; I love hearing an older singer singing a genuine love song that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is; and here Brown alongside the windswept and emotional accordion of Pat McCafferty on the bewitching McBrides and the shuffling Sweet Pea too.
I know Archie had his ‘day in the sun’ with the famed Young Bucks and was very nearly a pop star with the Bureau many moons ago; but for me he’s never sounded better than in recent years, when he’s slowed down and become an esteemed Elder Statesman in the locale; which really comes to the fore when he uses that grizzled voice to stun your heart like a taser when he sings the beautiful and introspective finale Mummy’s Boy.
Because I wasn’t expecting to hear those fabulous Geordie-Tijuana melodies; I’m diving in headlong to select my Favourite Song from the uptempo ones; at first it was the title track Diddley Bow; then it was the rather obvious; but nonetheless stupendous; look back through rose coloured glasses Back in The Day; which name checks some long forgotten watering holes in Newcastle Town; which several generations including my own replicated over both sides of the Millenium; but being the international man of mystery I try to be; I’m actually going for Hold Onto Your Hats; mostly because of the opening lines:
“It’s good to be me
On the cool end of slackness
Je ne sais quoi
No point in exactness….
Which could be my very own motto for life; but goes on to be the band’s way of thinking and by gum; it’s a belter from start to finish.
Archie even goes on to describe the bands’ raison d’etre thus:
It’s good to be tight
and loose as a monkey,
When the beats hitting right
The whole thing gets funky
Even if you live in Arkansas, Montreal or Beijing; that’s a band promising good night out there in those few lines; isn’t it?|
While the names involved in this recording may or may not mean anything to you if you live outside an NE postcode; trust me long term cohort and fellow Young Bucks Pat Rafferty on accordion, guitarist Tony Wadsworth alongside Chris Ringer on bass (Prelude), Steve Dolder on drums (Prefab Sprout) and on trumpet extraordinaire, ex-Chart Commando Steve Nash this is as close to a Geordie Supergroup as I dare dream about seeing and hearing; and I’m not easily pleased.

Released October 15th 2021


Danny George Wilson ANOTHER PLACE

Danny George Wilson
Another Place
Loose Music

Conventional Music Meets a Toy Box of Sounds to Form a Dynamic Alliance of Inventive Song Construction

A man of many hats (Danny and the Champions of the World, Bennett Wilson Poole, Grand Drive to name but three) DGW strikes out on his ownsome for only the second time, albeit with some guest assistance from the likes of Emma Swift, Gerry Love (Teenage Fanclub) and Jeff Tweedy; and it’s fair to say that the indie-guitar songwriting style, associated with the Love and Tweedy is what mainly permeates this release.

“Lost Future” opens with a brush against the (guitar) frets; and then tumbles into a melodically discordant (it’s a sampled and reversed bowed cymbal) Wilco-like tune that would have sat well on the soundtrack of “High Fidelity” such is its indie-cool cred.

“Sincerely Hoping;” a co-write with Will Birch juxtaposes a jolly organ riff, anticipatory emotion and uncertainty; but always stays the right side of optimism.
“I Wanna Tell You” drops a notch tempo-wise, with a looped rhythm, piano, pedal steel and bursts of white noise.It’s not as challenging a listen as that description sound,s evoking a reflective melancholy the way it does.

“Heaven for Hiding” again uses unconventional but interesting sound dynamics – bursts of panned guitar and changes of tempo, sudden stops and starts complement, rather than distract from the main melody. “Can you feel me” starts more conventionally with growling jangle that develops into phased and more rugged growling guitar, but all the time, the experiment plays against and reinforces the melody.

“Right Place” then sweeps into view, with tinkling piano and mellotron (like pad) and moments of short, stabbing surges of what sounds like viola (I could be wrong!) – late in the song, guitars slice through and genuinely shock the listener with their ferocity – it’s probably my favourite on the album as the balance of experimentation and song combine powerfully with the song’s structure.

“Giving Away Too Much” follows; based around mid-tempo grungy guitar and pedal steel – unlikely bedfellows on paper, but actually complement each other and juxtapose in surprisingly pleasant ways.
It’s quite Wilco-like in tempo and feel, so it’s perhaps no (musical) surprise to hear Jeff Tweedy turn up on the next track “We’ve Got a Lot to Learn” – a cover of the track by Spirit, with Gerry Love providing backing vocals too, to add more of a late 60’s West Coast sheen to affairs – Jeff Tweedy’s contribution is a spicy guitar solo that takes the song out towards a dazzling climax.

Another unusual choice of cover is that of Frank Sinatra’s “I Would Be in Love (Anyway)” where Wilson is joined to melodious effect by Emma Swift – far from being a jarring choice, the languid, melancholy melody and sentiment nestles comfortably (well, as comfortable as befits the experimental accompaniments on offer here) on the album.

The album ends with the vaguely cut-up, trip-hop accompaniment to “Inbetween the Love” where Wilson sounds most Neil Young like vocally – but again, it’s the experimental musical curveballs thrown in by production comrade Hamish Benjamin that keep the listener on their toes, with the detuned guitar lines and cut short reverb tails.

In the olden days – or maybe even now – this album would be classed as a “grower” – it’s a fascinating mix of conventional song structures, juxtaposed against jarring yet complementary musical accompaniment and it surprises and entertains more and more , with consecutive listens.

Review by Nick Barber

Released 15th October 2021



Tommy Womack  
I Thought I was Fine.
Schoolkids Records

Easy Going Archetypal Americana Yarns, Stories and Off Kilter Observations.  

Tommy Womack is a man who can spin a yarn, a natural storyteller with an easy style that belies the depth of his somewhat off kilter observations. 
Not only a forefather of what we know as Americana; Womack has not only cheated death more than once; but is a former member of Government Cheese, which once gave us the quirky “Cheese Chronicles: the True Story of a Rock Band You’ve Never Heard Of,” which kind of shows where he’s coming from.  

I Feel Fine is his 8th solo LP.and very much a back-to-basics record; utilising plain old Rock n Roll, with a few elements of punk and country, making it completely Tommy Womack of course.

From the opening track ‘Pay It Forward’ a rocking good tale of how to keep right in hard times, “Pay it forward as best you can” through to the end this album rocks along with an easy swagger.

I Thought I Was Fine comes next; and finds Tommy reflecting on how you can be fine one day and everything changes the next.   

A Little Bit of Sex part2 rocks like a  manic Tom Petty or our very own Rockpile at their very best. It’s an answer or follow-up to his A Little Bit of Sex on Positively Na Na.
Older and with a new wiser take on human desire,
Free at last Thank God almighty, I’m free at last‘ 
From when he sang ‘Every muscle every nerve flexed, in the pursuit of…a little bit of sex‘ I feel you Tommy, I feel you.  

I Got No Place To Go doesn’t drop the pace, rocking out with a beguilingly catchy hook and then Call Me Garry is a far darker tale of, shall we just say an overly friendly priest.  

Thankfully things lighten up with That Lucky Old Sun, a cowpunk version of the Frankie Lane classic from 1949.  

It’s All About Me keeps things light and the cheer doesn’t stop there, with I Do being a love song with a riff that harkens back to the Velvet Underground at their peak.  

I’ve heard many versions of Cole Porters’, Miss Otis Regrets over the years, but Womack’s wry take on the murder ballad gets a swinging and bluesy revision; suiting Tommy with it’s droll look at life and death.  

Job Hunting While Depressed is a far happier tune than the title would suggest, even though the thoughtful lyrics convey a  sense of desperation and resignation.  

Things take an odd turn with The Story of Waymond and Lou, a spoken intro tells of a couple who share something ‘special’; in spite of themselves. While a good story in itself, it serves as an intro to the last track, I Wish I’d Known you Better, a gentle lament for Womack’s dear departed older brother.  

I Thought I Was Fine is the album title, but “This is More Than Fine” would be an even better title.

Released October 15th 2021
Courtesy the Irish Magpie Tom Gleeson.




Ian M Bailey
Songs to Dream Along To
Kool Kat Musik

A Delightful Byrds Inspired Album of Cohesive Songs that Never Repeat Themselves

We’ve become huge fans of Ian M Bailey and his(former?) band The Lost Doves in recent years; and to some extent possibly pen pals too; judging by the e-mail correspondence we’ve had!
That; in no way hopefully mars my judgement of his latest album; a writing collaboration with Daniel Wylie (formerly of Cosmic Rough Riders; whose Glasgow gig was the first ever review I had published #Fact) …… if you believe that; you’ll believe anything!
That said; I still approached this with some caution; not that I expected it; but there’s always the danger that an act can fall into the trap of re-hashing their previous outings; and that ain’t what RMHQ is about …. is it?
While still treading a similar path to the duo’s EP SHOTS OF SUN; opening track This is Not a Feeling has a transcendental Byrds ‘feel’ to it; but latter day; circa Notorious Byrd Brothers; with Bailey and Wylie’s voices harmonising like siblings; and the almost psychedelic organ/Rickenbacker combo taking the listener on a magic carpet ride that he wasn’t quite expecting.
Carefully avoiding any Hippy-Trippy nonsense; Bailey takes the late 60’s vibe and polishes and even expands it with 21st Century now-how; to create a bitter-sweet soundtrack to 2021 that will thrill and amaze the under 40’s in equal quantities.
I half expected to review SONGS TO DREAM ALONG TO after only one listen; but that proved futile; as a) it’s far to lovely for that and b) several songs have taken days to unravel; and even today I’m still not convinced I’ve got the best out of Everything Will Be Alright, Slow Down River or What’s Happening Now which simply aches with longing.
Americana music comes in a million different flavours; but what I like most about Bailey (and The Lost Doves) is his unbridled love of a melody and a catchy tune ……. even at my advanced age I still don’t mind tapping my toes and smiling while listening to music; and you can too with just about everything here; but I’d point you to the jangly A Place to Live and the dreamy The Best of Me as prime examples.
Don’t be lulled into thinking that this is pure Pop Music; while that is the golden thread that weaves these songs together; there is plenty of shade, especially in the lyrics of The Sound of Her Voice and Just Like a Child (Dreamcatcher) to make you draw favourable comparisons to previous exponents of Jangly Pop Music like Teenage Fanclub, REM and; dare I say it …White Album Beatles!
Speaking of which in my humble opinion; the Far Eastern instrumental Midday at Hope Lodge; is more than a cautious nod in the direction of G Harrison esq …… tell me I’m wrong.
Sigh …… to some degree any or every song here has been a possible Favourite Track; but for these purposes I’ve whittled it down to two; A Place to Live and I’m Not The Enemy; with the former being another gorgeously deep love song that is slowly unravelling, and revealing hidden depths to both writer’s skills with the pen and the guitar.
The latter; I’m Not The Enemy is perhaps the most leftfield song here; the guitars are a tad grungier than anywhere else (hints of Cosmic Rough Riders?) and the slow burning tale constantly threatens to get out of hand …… but never actually does; which highlights Bailey’s skills in the control tower.
While not quite a roller coaster ride of emotions; Bailey and Wylie have created a delightful album of cohesive songs that never repeat themselves; always moving along like gentle horseback ride on a sunny afternoon that drifts into a glorious sunset.

Released October 15th 2021



Sam Fender
Seventeen Going Under

Cleverly Looking At The Past to Look to The Future.

As an avid Newcastle United fan and a ‘Geordie’ too;  it was probably tough for me to admit that Sam Fender’s debut album didn’t really hit my sweet spot; although a couple of tracks were actually quite outstanding.
Having seen him at a few local venues on his way ‘up;’ and watching his ongoing development I was interested in his reappearance after the eternity that was called lockdown.

I know I shouldn’t prejudge these things; but sometime you do; and now it looks as though I might be on ‘humble pie rations’ for a few weeks; after my first tentative listens to ‘Seventeen Going Under;’ with the final test being to listen to it on my morning walk – no interruptions etc, just the chance to listen and contemplate in the Autumn sunshine.

Fender’s work was recently described in one article that I read; as ‘a collection of anthems’ and I can understand why that phrase was coined, as he has produced an album with some real crackers on it, but all following slightly different musical routes – a ‘Geordie Springsteen’ was suggested by Will Richards in a Rolling Stone review too….. and again; you can hear why.

There is no escaping the fact that his songs follow his very working class upbringing in the streets of North Shields, at the mouth of the River Tyne; and even more relevant, that they represent him from his early years through to his mid twenties – some good and some not so good memories in the pick ‘n mix.
Taken as a whole, the listener is left with an album that (in my opinion) will still sound meaningful for several years to come.

You cannot miss his North East twang on the opener and title track, Seventeen Going Under as his fractured childhood reveals he was;
far soo scared then
but I would hit him in a heartbeat now’.
I always find it amazing that artists can produce a song like this out of such sad times; but backed by a driving chorus and guitars Sam does it with such composure and self-assurance.
Still only Track one and I was already hooked more than on ‘Hypersonic Missiles’.

‘Getting Started’ is another catchy track, with Sam proving to be quite an accomplished wordsmith with his ability to produce a vocal to fit perfectly into the arrangement.
‘*Aye’ is a savage  history of some of the notable events in history, ranging from the Crucifixion, through the atom bomb to the Kennedy assassination years – all of this as backing guitars hammer out behind his great vocals; although those of us (i.e the Rocking Magpie himself!) who are upset at the ‘strong’ language may not agree.
His views of those who ‘hate the poor’ and ‘double down on misery’ are evident here too.

The highlight was, surprisingly, one of the softer tracks, the ‘Spit of You;’ about his relationship with his father as he
smashed cups off the floor,’
with Sam pleading …
I can talk to anyone but I can’t talk to you
while ‘The Leveller’ highlights ‘Little England ripping itself to pieces’ with the scribbling on the walls about ‘the scum who overstayed our welcome’.
You aren’t left in any doubt about his leanings, politically, yet it just fits in neatly in the middle of the album.

Sam remains ‘stuck on a cycle’ in ‘Mantra’ as he is desperate to be a better person, only to fall at just about every hurdle he encounters before he just….. turns off his phone …. so he isn’t receiving ‘anything or anyone’.
Powerful stuff for one so young; and dare I say it, along the lines of Springsteen at his own younger, political best.

It’s difficult to review what is clearly an album of one man’s memories, where the majority are of a pleasant nature; but it’s Fender’s astonishing ability to keep you listening; even though there usually isn’t a happy ending; which makes this a real gem of an album.
In many ways Fender covers areas not touched upon in his first release; but to superb effect.

On reflection, I have to admit that ‘The Dying Light’ with its lovely piano backing could easily move into my Favourite Track position, as it allows him to use his great vocals to full impact, as the singer realises on that he needs to remember the good times/folks in his life instead of always looking on the dark side of life.

Lockdown and self isolation found Sam without the company of friends in the local boozer (public house) but he used this solitary confinement to write and mould a set of tracks that deserve to be listened to intently, so you get the full extent of the darkness into which he fell.

Therapy gave him the chance to understand that some events he had sought to forget in his life, were really the events that may well have turned him into a writer of the songs that now offer these feelings to the world at large on Vinyl/CD and of course download.

First and foremost Sam Fender is a **Geordie through and through, second of all a ***Toon fanatic and last but not least a writer of great songs and judging by this collection; possibly even a great writer of great songs as he matures and perhaps allows himself to be a bit more upbeat.

Humble pie now eaten and digested – it tasted a lot better than I thought.

* Aye aka ‘yes’; but in the local parlance can be used to convey many different feelings.
**Geordie – historically a person from in and around Newcastle upon Tyne
*** Toon fanatic – a supporter/follower of Newcastle United (a city; but the self depreciating locals always refer to it as ‘the Toon’ (i.e Town)

Review courtesy Bill Redhead
Released October 8th 2021


Carolyn Wonderland TEMPTING FATE

Carolyn Wonderland
Tempting Fate
Alligator Records

Primo Down Home Honky Tonky Texas Fried Country Blues

While the famed Alligator Records are primarily; and rightly know for bringing Blues Music; old new and futuristic to the world; who knew they had a love of down home Honky Tonky Texas Fried Country Blues too?
Well; as part of their 50th Anniversary releases that are coming at us like a Gatling Gun; that’s exactly what we have here.
I’ll get this bit out of the way early on; the delectably named Ms Wonderland was John Mayall’s lead guitarist for the last three years; and he’s got a reasonable reputation for finding such players over the last 60 years or more hasn’t he?
Then throw into the mix that Dave Alvin produced this album ……. what more do you need to know before parting with your hard earned cash?
Well; even without that pedigree; Carolyn Wonderland is a Star in her own stratosphere even without those two; judging by these belters; both fast and slow too.
WOAH ….. WOAH and thrice WOAH!
The crazed guitar opening of Fragile Peace and Certain War was more than enough for me to pre-judge what was to follow; and I was 100% correct; fast, furious and fluently expressive; Carolyn grabs you by the throat on this multi-layered Social Commentary; and doesn’t let go until you submit to her musical charms ….. and I like it that way.
Track #2 is very much the cornerstone, with gnarly guitars, pugnacious bass and drums and piano playing that makes Jerry Lee sound like Liberace; all of which are secondary as Carolyn blasts out her theme tune; Texas Girl and Her Boots …… you go girl; nobody here’s gonna stop you!
If you’ve survived this far; and not everyone will; you will already be checking Tour Dates and ordering merch.
As we delve deeper into the album; Ms Wonderland sounds like a heady mix of Janis, Maggie Bell and Rosetta Sharp on The Laws Must Change and the fearsome Broken Hearted Blues; but then goes all Blues Diva in the mould of Sharron Jones fronting Little Feat on Loser and Fortunate Few; where Dave Alvin’s influence certainly appears to come to the fore.
That’s probably true of the Tex-Mex waltzes Honey Bee and Crack in the Wall too; but reading Carolyn’s bio I think this are probably her favourite songs here; but the way she rearranges Bobby Dylan’s It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (which features Jimmie Dale Gilmore btw); shows what impeccable taste she has and how adaptable Dylan’s songs always were.
It’s fair to say, after two weeks of intermittent plays; this album ain’t gonna be played at many middle class hipster dinner parties …… this is for the dodgy stereo on your rust bucket and/or the live circuit, which will primarily be sweaty clubs and Friday nights somewhere you’re loved ones still worry that you’re inhabiting; at your age.
While I’ve concentrated on Carolyn’s singing style; which I’m more than happy promoting; it’s obviously her guitar playing that has brought her to prominence over the years; and here it simply just doesn’t get any better or more fluid than on Mayall’s The Laws Must Change; but there are two other tracks vying for my Favourite Song accolade; the album finale; her heart wrenching version of the Grateful Dead’s Loser features some stunningly understated guitar playing that every legend in the genre would be proud of; but Carolyn seems to do it so effortlessly under a deep and insightful Power-Ballad that will send the hairs on the back of your neck; standing on end the first time you hear it.
The other; and song that just about shaves the Award is the Honky Tonky piano led Fortunate Few, which shows not just how dextrous she is as a musician; but when she hits them notes on the chorus; it’s fair to say they stay hit and some of them have little bluebirds flying around them at times.
Although Carolyn Wonderland has been around for a very long time; playing in Houston aged 15 then cutting 5 locally released albums between ’93 and ’97; it was her friend Doug Sahm who persuaded her to move to Austin in 1999; and that’s where her story really begins and shows no signs of ending any time soon; but now as a Headline act rather than a ‘guitar for hire.’

Released October 8th 2021


Fred Hostetler FORTUNA REDUX

Fred Hostetler
Fortuna Redux
Mukthiland Records

An Exponentially Different Take on Acoustic Blues That Really, Really Works.

Fred Hostetler was a brand new name to me when his last album Fred’s Blue Chair Blues arrived at RMHQ in October 2020; but his pretty unique take on Acoustic Blues really captured my heart and imagination.
So when his latest release arrived last week (as a download three weeks after release and with no Press Release tsk tsk) I was obviously intrigued and put it straight on the stereo.
A little bit of research (his website) tells me that this is a collection of previously released singles that have been either re-mixed or gussied up with additional parts added.
So; as is my won’t and with no originals to compare and contrast with; I’m treating this as a brand new release.
The album opens with the wonderful Taming The Wolf 2; that simply shimmy’s along like a wolf hunting its prey; with Fred’s wheezy vocals and National Steel giving his introspective tale of unrequited love sounding almost Gothic, sleazy and dangerous in equal measure.
At the moment we’ve just discovered the TV drama Goliath with Billy Bob Thornton starring; and this song could easily be on that type of soundtrack.
With nothing to check with; but I don’t think Shelter From the Storm is the Dylan Classic; but to my untutored ears; is every bit as piercing and razor-sharp as t’other song with the same title; and I can easily imagine someone like Danny Boyle crawling over broken glass to make an accompanying video.
Now; the following song I do recognise; Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine and as I’ve said many times before; if you’re going to cover a Classic song make it exponentially different …… and while using the same words and 75% of the original melody; Hostetler’s arrangement will send a shiver down the back of anyone deeply in love and their partner leaves them …… forever or even a few days; Hostetler’s intense vocals sums up your feelings better than you will ever imagine yourself.
If I jump forward a couple of tracks; Fred’s intricate Slide Guitar playing on Rain on My Window Pain reminds me so much of the first time I ever heard Stefan Grossman as a teenager; and the way he delivers his words with so much pathos you wonder why he’s not crying as he sings. If this really was a single; I’d love to listen to the radio station that had the guts to play it!
The all too short album closes with a funky uptempo Blues holler; I’m a New Man which even in this relatively raw state sounds almost commercial and sounds like it was recorded in one exciting and breathless take.
Which brings me to my challenge of finding an actual individual Favourite Track; and that’s not easy, but I’ve somehow managed to narrow it down to two.
The first is the only new song here; Lady Luck (Fortuna Redux) and is as different as this acoustic formula allows from everything else here. Claustrophobic in texture and passionate in nature it somehow has a French tinge to it; and apart from erring on using Jacque Brel as an analogy; even I don’t really know what I mean …. but check it out and you’ll hear where I’m coming from.
The other He’s Gone Rogue instantly appealed; mostly because a colleague actually said that about me a month or so ago during ‘wage negotiations’ with management! Another claustrophobic type of arrangement with a chant chorus; the best way to describe this to the uninitiated is that it’s a bit like Tom Waits circa Rain Dogs; but easier on the ear; and because of that …… it’s my Favourite Song here.
After spending 17 years exile in India; it looks like Fred Hostetler has come back to Musicland with clear eyes, a full heart and a desire to do things his way and damn the consequences.
Fred Hostetler Rocks!

Released September 2021


Jackson & Sellers BREAKING POINT

Breaking Point
Anti Records

A Glorious, Musically Dynamic, Emotionally Charged and Energetically Hook-Soaked Magnum Opus

Drawn together initially briefly at Americanafest in 2019, Jade Jackson contacted Aubrie Sellers via DM on social media to add backing vocals on a track…and matters escalated from there into a full duo release. While there’s obviously clear elements of each writer on this album, “Breaking Point” turns out to have a strong collaborative identity of its own too – and that identity contains lots of emotional energy, loud, rasping glam-rock guitars and proud middle finger ballads that will destroy the unprepared radio listener. It’s raw – in an emotionally strong way.

Opener “The Devil is an Angel” is one of three covers on the album and tears out of the speakers with an Ethan Ballinger driven guitar sound that wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Nirvana single.
Here the vocals are complementary and unified in almost double-tracked form – this is a duo manifesto and it’s coming directly at you.
Title track “Breaking Point” follows and has an almost Glitter Band single remixed by a weird Syd Barrett cosmic stomp thing going on.
Earworm, earworm, earworm….

First big ballad is the heartbeat twang of “As You Run” – great production job by Aubrie Sellers and Ethan Ballinger, in creating a Daniel Lanois type soundscape – the minor shift in this song is a joy to hear too and takes it from very good to ….. spectacular.
Not a duff track so far and they aren’t letting up.
Ballinger’s guitar with its granular distortion and a distorted vocal, leads the listener into “The World is Black” and its howls of desperation at the darkness in which there’s some light to follow is a primeval cathartic release – I was air guitaring like a crazy person at the end too….

“Waste Your Time” takes the listener into Glam-Rock headbanging territory adain; imagine if The Sweet had been taken in a time machine from 1975 to the present day and given the keys to the fuzztone factory, then they may have come up with something like this – yowzah …. yowzah …. yowzah!

Next up is “Hush” the song that prompted Jackson to contact Sellers and led to the duo’s collaboration – it’s a song for Jackson’s younger sister Audrey (Bonus tip – Audrey J is a talented artist and has music to release soon too. There must be something in the Californian water and the Jackson gene pool) about escaping a toxic relationship.
Swooping and sweeping backing vocals frame a fragile and supportive central message of sisterly support.

“Fair Weather” stays in ballad mode and it’s a hook-laced reflection on the transient nature of relationships and the world-weary observation that some people only stick around when times are good. Whether it’s ultimately a positive or a negative thing – well, make your own mind up whether the good times can endure enough…. in these godforsaken times.

The tempo ups again with “Wound Up” which drives along with a Jeffrey Lee Pierce/Gun Club rockabilly/Blues ferocity – there are some great rhythmic and guitar stop-starts stabs in this too; which will make this a mosh-pit favourite – it’s RAWK-us! (Sorry…)

The album ends with two more covers – the penultimate track is Suzi Quatro’s “The Wild One” given a 21st century squelch/grunge make-over with Jackson and Sellers swapping verses and combining on what’s in effect a mini-manifesto from the album.

Last up it’s a cover of Shannon Wright’s “Has Been” – a chant-along Throwing Muses meets Neil Young and a train beat in a dark alley; statement of intent – the guitars play out and freak out – and the album’s all too soon over. But there’s always the repeat button of course!

Being a fan of both Aubrie Sellers and Jade Jackson, I was hugely looking forward to this release but somewhat cautious that it might not quite match my expectations.
I needn’t have worried – this is a glorious, musically dynamic, emotionally charged and energetically hook-soaked magnum opus and it’s just taken the lead in my personal album of the year list.

Review by Nick Barber
CD Released October 22nd
Vinyl Released January 28th 2022