Ashley McBryde NEVER WILL

Ashley McBryde
Never Will
Warner Nashville

The Sound of a Girl Arriving At The Top.

I’ve been on tenterhooks for weeks waiting for this to arrive; only to find RMHQ is now so far down the pecking order that the Review ‘download’ was only sent to me on the actual ‘day of release’.
Whereas a CD of Girl Going Nowhere was sent unsolicited a month ahead of its release ‘asking for a review’…… that’s how far Ashley McBryde has travelled in such a short time.
I’ve now played the album three times and have a ‘feel’ for where Ashley is coming from….. I hope.
I had a chuckle the first time I heard opening track Hang In There Girl; as the guitar parts are more than a little bit Rolling Stonesesque and even the drums come from the Charlie Watts school of drumming. The song, or should I say story, is 100% Country and as sharply observed and punchy as I’d hoped it would be.
If there’s even a smidgen of doubt in your mind about how Ashley’s new found status in Nashville Town may effect her songs; then Track #2 One Night Standards will certainly put your mind at rest. This is Country Deluxe and shows a new found maturity and perhaps even confidence in her pitch; and boy oh boy do those guitars squeal like a Ford Mustang going around a 90 degree corner!
I suppose it isn’t easy for a songwriter to follow up a succesful album; but you wouldn’t know it here; as Ashley and her co-writers have constructed some Modern Country Classics …… and that’s a sentiment I don’t use lightly.
Possibly because of the A-Team songwriters she has sat down with; Ashley’s new songs really flow like a river in torrent; just as one ends and you think you have time to draw breath, you will find yourself hurled down another set of emotional rapids.
Already, I love the feisty break-up song First Thing I Reach For, with the pay-off chorus:
The first thing I reach for
Is the last thing I need
Then there’s the astute Country Rocker, Never Will, showing a woman that’s not afraid to bare her soul to the masses; and I can only presume this will get a standing ovation when played in Concert Halls around the globe.
Ms McBryde even drops in big ole Power Ballad when you least expect it. BOOM! It’s certainly not meant as a criticism; but Jay Joyce’s Production on Voodoo Doll here is B.I.G compared to anything on Girl Going Nowhere and it works perfectly well as the ‘story’ is every bit as B.I.G as the sound that comes out of your speakers.
In many ways, this is probably the album Ashley has dreamed of recording all her life; her songs are perfectly matched to some magical musical backdrops, like on Sparrow and Velvet Red; but and this won’t come as a surprise to many fans. There are not just surprises around every corner but exciting ‘experiments’ that shake the Country formula to it’s dusty roots.
I’m thinking Martha Divine and Shut Up Sheila here; with both throwing caution to the wind with their musical interplay; but never ever not being pure damn Country songs. This girl is still prepared to take risks with her music…… and that’s a mighty good thing.
Speaking of taking risks, the finale; Styrofoam is a bit odd; but hey ….. what the Hell; I actually like it now; and maybe in concert it’s meant to be a drinking song?
That only leaves my Favourite Song; and after three plays it’s not been easy; as several tracks here could be ‘Game Changers’ for Ashley; but the song Mrs. Magpie and I have actually agreed on is …….. Stone. It’s a bit different to the rest of the album; gentle even, but don’t let that fool you; these biting lyrics will send a shiver down your spine in the way Loretta, Reba and even Bobbie Gentry used to release back in the day; and Ashley McBryde has created a timeless beauty in their images; but with contemporary 2020 razor sharp observations too. …….. just as you’d expect.
Well; even allowing for my initial excitement this morning; I think I can comfortably say that Ashley McBryde has now arrived at the pinnacle that her teenage peers sneered at her ever achieving.
I don’t give a stuff to whatever else is released from the major labels this year; I doubt there will be a more important or better Country Album than this one and it and Ashley herself, will scoop all of the Top Awards that the ACM, CMA and CMT has to offer.

Released April 3rd 2020

A.K and the Brotherhood OH SEDONA!

A.K and the Brotherhood
Paraply Records

Fabulously Authentic Americana/Scandicana Hybrid

I never cease to be amazed regarding where the Americana ship docks around the world; as in this instance a songwriter in a part of Sweden you couldn’t find on a map (if you could even find Sweden first!) has spawned a fabulous band an album of truly authentic Americana/Alt. Country.
Opening track California Freebird instantly whisks the listener away to a winding coastal road in a red sports car with the roof down and the stereo turned up to 8.
This is followed by the more gentle For The Long Run, with Alo Karlsson himself at the piano; and pouring his heart out with a slight crackle in his worn and weary voice. Is it a love song? Is it a break-up song? It’s a bit of both; and bares repeated plays if you are ‘in that mood’.
There are days when I wonder where songwriters get their ideas from; and there’s a top song here that falls into that category; the twisted love song Like The Devil Reads The Bible; and you guessed it ……. it’s a Hellfire and Brimstone Honky Tonker that will have audiences shouting along and punching the air on each and every chorus.
Like me in the UK I guess Alo has always looked on America through rose coloured glasses; and the romantic imagery in his songs here appear to reflect that; with the fabulous duet with Sofia Loell, Big City Sidewalks sounding as authentic as if the couple lived in Nashville, New York or even Nantucket; and not rural Sweden.
The songs here are nearly all deeply personal; and certainly written from the bottom of his heart; with the Country Rockers Miles and Memories, Halfway To Anywhere and Man Up having the ability to make you want to dance with tears in your eyes.
I doubt AK and the Brotherhood are destined to fill Arenas around Europe; but I can only imagine how cool it will be seeing them in a full and sweaty club on a Friday or Saturday night cranking out Halfway to Anywhere and Where All The Dreams Go!
I’ve played Oh Sedona! really loud in the car and also at about 5 in the living room; and that’s thrown up two very diverse songs as my Favourite Tracks. (Living on) Tupelo Time is a charming laid back tale of finally making it to Elvis’s home town, in the mould of Poco or maybe even early Eagles; and it’s a belter.
The other is a gentle Country shuffle full of maudlin fiddle playing, tinkling piano, brushed drums and oh so sweet guitar, called Guiding Light that will make you smile in recognition of the way AK describes his life on the road; but constantly thinking of his Guiding Light back home.
In the current economic climate AK and the Brotherhood are very brave playing their own songs when they could probably make a better living being an Eagles or maybe even Tom Petty covers band; but more power to them; and if there’s an even braver American promoter reading this; you could do a lot worse than bring this band to the US of A!

Released March 2020

Ruthie Collins COLD COMFORT

Ruthie Collins
Curb Records

Cool, Classy and Astute Americana/Country Crossover.

I’m way behind with my reviews, because of the Corona Virus ‘lock-down’ ……Mrs. Magpie is strictly monitoring the time I spend on the computer when I’m at home; and apparantly in the real world I’m deemed to be a ‘Key Worker’ so still have to face danger every day.
But; there’s always time for great music, isn’t there?
I’d never heard of New Yorker Ruthie Collins before receiving this CD; but I was pretty sure the contents were going to fit my mood on Saturday as soon as I saw the picture on the cover; and I was right.
Ooooohhhh opening track, Joshua Tree is absolutely lovely. ‘Lovely’ isn’t a word I use very much; but I can’t think of a better word to describe this luscious and cinematic nod to Gram Parsons; but her words and imagery will touch the hearts of star-crossed lovers the world over.
Why I’ve never heard of Ruthie before is baffling; because this is her third album in 6 years and everything about her, from the razor-sharp songwriting through her honeyed and ‘lived in’ voice coupled to an uncanny likeness to a young Linda Ronstadt appeals to every bone in my body.
Her songwriting really is top drawer, as she can conjure up amazing pictures with words in Untold, Cheater and not least the title track Cold Comfort which all lend themselves to quite literal videos.
The list of female singer-songwriters that Ruthie Foster reminds me of is as long as my arm, so I won’t bore you with comparing and contrasting; but when you hear Hey Little Girl and Wish You Were Here (NO! It’s not a Pink Floyd cover) or Change, many names will pop into your head; but instantly disappear as Ruthie Foster is very much her own woman and defies lazy comparisons. She’s the real deal.
Choosing a Favourite song was quite easy to begin with, as I quickly fell in love with Dang Dallas; a dark and dusty tale of long distance love that had me dipping my head towards the speakers to pick out the beautiful words.
Then; I made the mistake of introducing the album to Mrs. Magpie (who has now ensconced the CD in her car!) and a couple of days later told her of my choice. The look she gave me would have curdled milk!
“What about Bad Woman?” She asked incredulously.
“Yeh, it’s good.” I responded, only to realise that I was obviously wrong to have an opinion, so now the Official RMHQ Favourite Song is the heart breaking, pensive and almost tear inducing Bad Woman, with its beautifully sweeping strings and wistfully powerful vocal performance.
This is the type of Country Music that will appeal to Olde Timers who are stuck in the past, young Pop Country fans and most of all; the cool kids like you and I who are drawn to well constructed, interesting and ‘really cool’ songs by someone who makes every word and note ‘believable.’

Released April 3rd 2020.


Gena Rose Bruce
Can’t Make You Love Me
Dot Dash Recordings

The Cathartic Sound of a Broken Heart Slowly Healing

It’s been a while since my trusty I-Phone unearthed a diamond from my collection on it; but on Monday night as I drove home from work, in the darkness a whispery and velvety voice filtered out of the car stereo and any angst I was feeling almost immediatly dissipated.
Gena Rose Bruce? No, me neither and I couldn’t even remember receiving the album; which is becoming less of a surprise the older I get!
So, the next morning I hunted it out and now it’s been on ‘heavy rotation’ for three days solid.
There’s a bit of an electro-pop vibe to opening track The Way You Make Love; but that’s quickly forgiven as Gena Rose Bruce’s breathy voice is all consuming; as are her lyrics; which are part wistful and part bitter as she remembers her ex-lover, in the most descriptive way (note: never upset a songwriter).
Track #2 Coming Down; is more RMHQ Friendly with an acoustic guitar, militaristic drum patterns and an industrial strength bass combining to force Gena’s story straight into your brain ….. and never leave.
As an eclectic music fan; I’ve really enjoyed this collection of love (and loss) songs; but without sounding sexist, the demographic will primarily be young women who are looking for solace in the words of someone who ‘gets them’ in such troubled times.
That said; I have falling love with Gena’s smoky voice; especially on Angel Face and Revive, both of which heavily feature that darned synth, but at this stage I’m willing to forgive the Australian songstress just about anything.
Or maybe not; as the instrumental June just sounds like someone noodling in the studio.
Apparently Gena had just broken up with a long term boyfriend when she disappeared to write and then record these songs; and that intimate introspection comes across here from start to vision, but never more so than on I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You and Rearview, which immediatly follows. Phew; this young lady is hurting …… really, really hurting. Even at my advanced age, I can still remember these feelings all to well ….. so, as I say ….. young women the world over will clutch this album to their heaving bosoms in a darkened bedroom, as they wallow in not just their own love lorn grief; but Gena Rose Bruce’s too.
It’s not been easy selecting a Favourite Track; as it’s not really that type of album; I can’t picture Gena pouring her heart out on today’s equivalent of Top of The Pops; but two songs really do sound like they could easily be Singles for radio play; on the dark and gloomy For You Gena squeezes the Hell out of the listeners heartstrings and the melody sounds like it’s destined for a David Lynch movie soundtrack.
The other is slightly more uptempo (which is relative on an album like this) and immediatly follows For You; and it’s the quaintly titled I Can’t Be That Easy; but there’s twists galore in these essential 3 and a half minutes; so I think I’m going with this as my Favourite Song on a quite exceptional album.
While I personally think the copious use of Synth here, detracts from several intimate and articulate songs; I doubt the average purchaser will agree with me; but when Ms Bruce tours these songs I presume she will use a more conventional electric keyboard; and when she does Magic will happen in intimate venues around the world.

Released March 20th 2020

The Nautical Theme LOWS and HIGHS

The Nautical Theme

Luscious Yet Brittle Folk-Americana

It’s spectacularly odd reviewing music at this time. To some degree ‘music’ is a frivolous accompaniment to our long days sitting waiting for the Corona Virus Plague to go away .
But; I also know that Musicians are in desperate need of sales to put food on their tables; so sadly, my reviews perhaps take on a new importance.
No pressure there, then.
Nearly three years ago I said “Duo Rock The Folk Out of Acoustic Music” about the Nautical Theme’s debut album, FLOAT and; not a lot has changed with this, their second album.
The punchy and perceptive Break My Fall, with Matt taking lead vocals and Tesia providing honeyed harmonies is a real attention grabber; and the perfect opener; especially as the mood takes a left turn next with the beautiful, yet melancholy Other Side which follows.
I can’t put my finger on it; but the production here somehow brings out something special and even ageless in these songs. As a ‘man of a certain age’ it’s all too easy to hear comparisons with the Laurel Canyon acts of yore; or more recently the Civil Wars, but it’s never that simple as both Tesia Mallory and Matt Shetler both have very distinctive voices in their own rite; and their richly detailed songs similarly follow a very contemporary path.
The couple neatly take turns as lead vocalist and it would take someone with sharper hearing than I, to say who is the better singer. For me they choose the songs to compliment the individual voice; which is both clever and professional.
As with the previous album, this is American Folk Music that Rocks, ever so slightly.
One More Left and the gentle piano led Not Really sure find Tesia at the front; but what you will remember most is the wonderful way their voices intertwine to create lovely and breathy music.
When Matt takes lead on Other Side and River there’s a definite warmth to the songs; which is partly his rich voice, but that ‘luscious production and mastering’ brings something really special out too.
For a Modern Folk album; which this is, most songs here are actually very commercial and hopefully destined for National Radio; especially Some Things Never Change and the title track LOWS and HIGHS, but I’m going elsewhere for my Favourite Song; Family Lie which sounds just as commercial; but listen closely and you will find a very personal story that far too many of us can connect with.
Tesia Mallory (vocals, keys) and Matt Shetler (vocals, guitar) aka The Nautical Theme have created a very special ‘sound’ that is quite unlike anyone else I can think of; and once this Plague is over and done with, will surely take a massive leap forward in their career.

Released March 20th 2020


Rory Block
Stony Plain

Channeling The Spirit of Female Fore-bearers of The Blues.

How does anyone keep up with Rory Block’s recorded output? She’s released so many albums I doubt even she can remember some of them.
I’m only 4 albums in; and each is significantly different to the others yet somehow manages to keep the quality really high; this lady doesn’t compromise and certainly doesn’t ‘go through the motions’ like several of her contempories that I could name and shame.
PROVE IT ON ME is the second album in a series she’s recording celebrating the work of Female Blues artists that span the generations under the title of ‘Power Women of the Blues’.
Opening song He May Be Your Man will make casual listeners sit bolt upright the first time they hear it! It certainly isn’t your average ‘cheating song’ as it’s from the point of view of the ‘other woman’ in a lover’s tryst; and Rory inhabits the character like a second skin; and her beautifully weathered voice and sublime bottleneck guitar playing combine for an extraordinary three minutes.
That song is credited to one Helen Humes; who like the majority of other artistes that Rory is ‘celebrating’ here; is a new name to me. But that’s the whole point I guess; because I’m now legally bound to dig deep and research the originals.
While this is Acoustic Blues; Rory still manages to dabble in several different genres; with Rosetta Howard’s Your a Viper is a century old tune extolling the virtues ‘smoking a spliff’ but doesn’t sound dated at all; and two songs later there’s the beautiful Gospel song, I Shall Wear a Crown which in turn is followed by Rory’s own dark and deeply personal Eagles; and fits in quite perfectly with the historical songs either side of it.
I only recognise two names here; ‘Ma’ Rainey and the indubitable Memphis Minnie with Ma’s Prove It On Me being the title track for a very good reason; it’s heartbreaking and meaningful in equal measures; while Rory takes Memphis Minnie’s In My Girlish Days down a few notches until it becomes a powerful lament accompanied by some awesome slide playing too.
I adore the metaphorical It’s Red Hot; and for a song first heard in 1928; it could easily be a ramped and vamped up and sung on the Chitlin’ Circuit by someone like Miss Jody or Sheba Potts Wright; but Rory Block strips it right back to sinew and bones without losing an ounce of nuance.
I was very tempted to make Motherless Child my Favourite Song; partly because it’s wonderful; but mostly because I recognised it; although not in this very brittle format.
But there’s another song here that sort of sums up the need for Rory Block to bring these songs back to the world in 2020. I’ve never heard of Lottie Kimbrough before hearing Rory summoning up her spirit in Wayward Girl Blues; which magnificently combines a sad Folk Tale with a slow Gospellish melody built around some of the finest acoustic guitar playing you may hear this year. So; Wayward Girl is my Favourite Song here.
I’ve loved every minute of this album; but find it very sad that without Rory Block bringing them back to life; these songs would just be sitting around gathering dust; whereas plenty of very average Male artists from the same generation; who appropriated many of ‘their songs’ are lauded today by musicians and journalists alike.

Released March 27th 2020

The 81s 2 THINGS and 118 OTHERS

The 81s
Independent Self-Released

Middle-Aged Kicks, So Hard To Beat!

Now that the World is really going to Hell in a handcart, RMHQ has cranked the office stereo up to 11 and decided that only nasty Rock & Roll will do for our daily soundtrack ……. and it’s fair to say The 81’s fit the bill perfectly well.
Basically a collaboration between songwriter and producer Thomas Sterling and Nashville stalwart Mr Timothy Carroll esq. plus a couple of mates. Somehow I missed their first two albums; but have made up for lost time playing the Bejasus out of this one over the last three days!
Opening track Michael (End of the Line) builds and builds like a sea fog, with Tim Carroll (metaphorically) cupping the microphone so you don’t miss a word as the searing guitars and pneumatic rhythm section try to blow the speakers behind him.
YAY! This is already my kinda Rock & Roll.
Bizarrely for Rock of this ilk, the actual songs are to the fore, courtesy of Sterling’s neat production and Carroll’s powerful drawl ……. listen or be damned!
She Don’t Want Me and Mind Bender remind me of 1980’s American Post-Punk; just before Grunge kicked in. There’s even a melody fighting through the somewhat dazed and confused haze; as Cameron Carrus uses his bass like it’s a blunt weapon.
I don’t think anyone here is fantasising about playing The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury or even Madison Square Garden; this is the type of sneering and sweaty music that is best heard in a dingy club with a light show bought off E-Bay and warm beer sold by the bottle.
Every song goes straight for your throat in a way I haven’t heard for years; although The Yayhoos and perhaps The Vandoliers probably come real close recently.
I can just about remember what it would feel like for a teenager to hear Four Way Stop or Nuke Laloosh for the very first time ……. you know? Eyes bulging and jaw hanging loose; then pressing ‘repeat’ 17 times in a row, until your Dad shouts “Turn that racket down!”
But; that’s not to say Dad’s won’t get this too; especially ones who still wear original Tom Petty or Neil Young t-shirts; especially Is This All You Got and Curb.
What to choose as a Favourite Song? Album closer Need To Believe is an obvious contender, and the hairy guitar solo will make your head swivel if you ever hear it on Planet Rock one afternoon; yet I also keep coming back to the brooding Camino de Santiago which coolly sits in the middle of the album and allows you to get your breath back; but with my fingers crossed I’m picking Hostage, for no other reason than it’s a great song wrapped in an even greater melody and backbeat ……. it ROCKS!
Back to the t-shirt ‘thing’; I despair when I see geezers my age wearing them featuring the bands they grew up listening to; as in general these people pay whole fortunes to see their heroes (accompanied by sidemen who weren’t even born when the hits were coming) at huge arenas; when bands like The 81’s are playing a bar or club across town for 10% of those crazy ticket prices; and are a damn sight more relevent in every which way.
Check out The 81’s ……. they will Rock your socks off.

Released March 27th 2020.


Kim Richey
Yep Roc

Fresh, Sharp and Imaginative Recreations of 20 Year Old Songs.

Not for the first time recently, I was ‘late to the party’ with Kim Richey, only discovering her via the 2018 album EDGELAND, which was the RMHQ Album of The Year.
Shame on me, as only a tiny bit of detective work showed me that she had been writing ‘hit records’ for decades and she herself releasing ‘critically acclaimed’ and Big Label and fairly big selling records since 1995!
Hey ho; this brings me to this rather remarkable reworking of the songs on Glimmer, from 1999.
Because of my ignorance at not knowing the originals, I will treat this for what it is; a brand new album …….especially as they are now stripped back to the sinew with hardly any backing; although what there is is delivered by producer Doug Lancio, Nielsen Hubbard, Dan Mitchell and Aaron Smith.
The mood is set by the starkly plaintive opening track, (Why Don’t You) Come Around which conjures up it’s own weary yet romantic imagery without having to stretch the imagination too far.
Who knows what Ms Richey was going through in her private life 20 years ago; but it’s fair to guess that heartbreak was in the air; judging by the harrowing Good At Secrets and The Way It Never Was; both of which cut straight through to the sinew.
While these songs are all new to me; I find it fascinating that the songwriter can travel back to this time in her life and blow the dust off; then breathe new life into raw and deeply personal Gravity and So It Goes.
There;s something particularly magical in the production on Strength In You, which perfectly matches Kim’s expressive voice with a stifling and passionate backing to create a Heartbreaker of the finest hue.
At no stage listening to these re-workings have I had the desire to go back and check out the originals. Why would I, as each and every song here sounds like an almost perfect musical vignette that is almost timeless; most especially Didn’t I which closes the album and perhaps Hello Old Friend too, which sounds like something Linda Ronstadt should have recorded.
Now that she’s finally got her head around this album; Mrs. Magpie, as is her won’t, has told me which song is my Favourite Track here; and I actually agree, as Can’t Lose Them All is the type of song that will appeal to listeners in a million different ways, as in many ways it’s a “we’ve all been there” story; with everyone interpreting Kim Richey’s beautiful words into becoming something very personal to themselves; which is a talent very few songwriters have.
Personally I’ve fallen in love with this recording; just like I did EDGELAND even though they are not just twenty years apart but a million miles too; but still manage to sit side by heartbreaking side.

Released 27th March 2020

Watermelon Slim TRAVELLING MAN (Dbl Live Album)

Watermelon Slim
Northern Blues Music 

100% Proof Authentic Acoustic Country Blues.

Oh Man! What a joy I’ve had here …….. two Live Albums of exceptionally crafted and delivered Country Blues from a Modern Day Legend.
That said; I always find it annoying when ‘fans’ of Genres like this stay stuck in the past listening to albums recorded half a century ago; totally ignoring or even remaining in the dark that Musicians are still finding new ways to tell these exotic stories.
Born in Boston as William Homans III to a blue-blood family, Watermelon Slim is the epitome of a man who has the Blues in his bones and when he drawls the opening song Blue Freightliner on Disc #1 (recorded at the Blue Door in Oklahoma) and accompanies himself on slide guitar; you instantly know that he’s the Real Deal.
The vast majority of what follows are his own observational songs; mostly written in the 70’s and 80’s; but when you hear 300 Miles and Frisco Line you’d swear that they were 100 years old.
As is his won’t, Slim embodies the characters in songs like Scalemaster Blues or Truck Driving Songs Never Go Out Of Style making them totally ‘believable’.
Obviously he also dips into the Classics too; with the inclusion of Fred McDowell’s Highway 61; which somehow manages to sound like it could have been recorded in a Roadhouse Shack 100 years ago instead of the 21st Century; and while the world may not be desperate to hear another version of Smokestack Lightning; wowza is this a brilliant song; and a million miles away from the Yardbirds version which Slim admits to hearing in 1963, then including it in his own set.
Then we jump onto Disc #2 recorded earlier the same year at The Depot, Norman, OK and is every inch just as spellbinding.
This disc finds Slim sounding a bit more fiery in his delivery; starting with Let It Be Memphis; which features some sublime bottleneck geetar btw.
There’s a ‘Traditional Song’ here that I only know via Joe Bonamassa; and while it’s the same words and arguably melody; Slim’s interpretation of John Henry is nearly 359 degrees away from the one by the Crown Prince; which is why I love the Blues.
If you’ve not heard him before Watermelon Slim has a deliciously rich voice, with a slight ‘world weary’ slur, which makes every single song sound genuinely Authentic; with Into The Sunset and Dark Genius being perfect examples of a man singing from deep in the folds of his heart.
Choosing a Favourite Song has actually been a bit easier than I first imagined, as one from each disc actually stick out like poppies in cornfield.
On Disc #2 it’s The Devil’s Cadillac, which I’d never heard before; and Slim’s introduction is short and succinct; but draws you into the following song like Voodoo Queen would. The other is Northern Blues on Disc #1 and here it’s Slim’s majestic guitar playing that keeps me coming back; although his story touches part of my own in ways I’m not prepared to talk about here.
Why Watermelon Slim isn’t a Household Name I will never know; he’s certainly the ‘Real Deal;’ with a big bunch of heartbreaking and heartwarming songs that stand shoulder to shoulder with many Classics that fill all of our collections; plus own backstory is just as interesting as the songs he sings; but I haven’t got the time to go into it here, and I urge you to check him out while you’re listening to this Double Album.

Released March 27th 2020


Harry Stafford & The Guitar Shaped Hammers
Black Lagoon Records

Soundtrack For a Late Night Diner, Far From The Madding Crowd

Manchester has long been a been a musical hub; starting with the Hollies in the 1960’s, then dancing its way through the Hacienda years only to reappear (and arguably peak) with Britpop and Oasis; but ….. The Blues?
Apart from football team City; I wouldn’t have ever associated The Blues with Manchester; but beavering away in the city’s shadows is one Harry Stafford, who first crossed my radar as a member of Post-Punksters Inca Babies in the 1980’s and has now re-invented himself.
There’s certainly a bit of a Tom Waitsian vibe to opening track, the alt.Love Song She Just Blew Me Away; albeit with harmonies and a vocal performance that doesn’t quite scare the neighbours. There’s dirty guitar, cool late night trumpet and piano playing worthy of the Blue Note Club in NYC; what’s not to like?
The scene is now set.
In his defence, there is a definite ‘Blues’ feel to much of this record; but to me this is the type of late night Jazz that I dream of stumbling upon; and Stafford delivers it all with not just gusto, but pathos too.
The songs themselves are very wordy; articulate even and occasionally bordering on Beat Poetry; but that’s never a bad thing here at RMHQ.
I adore Stafford’s uber-confidence on the exceptionally dour and moody Black Rain and Infinite Dust. There’s only a handful of artistes who can carry off something so dark; and Harry is certainly one of them.
You can actually feel the bass lines in Sideways Shuffle in your chest; and the trumpet is so sharp it could cut your heartstrings in two; then of curse there are Harry Stafford’s words themselves …….. mind expanding!
With so much going on the background, many singers would fall at the first hurdle in their quest to be heard; but courtesy of Ding Archer and Stafford himself’s production it’s only when you listen to the likes of Man in a Bar or Cruel Set of Shades on headphones that you find yourself being immersed in the intricacy of the playing, as Stafford’s distinctively brusque vocals take you on a journey that is normally the reserve of poets.
Finding a Favourite Song amidst this basket of earthly delights hasn’t been easy at all; with the melancholy single Painted Ocean being a presumed winner when I first heard it way back in January; and the opening track She Blew Me Away is nigh on perfect in this setting; but now, months later I’m going for the most left of centre song on a very left of centre album; which is the mysterious and poetic Disappearing, which obviously conjures up more comparisons with Tom Waits; but there’s also a hefty dollop of Scott Walker in here too and not just the concept, but the articulate construction may even come from the Thomas Hardy book of poetry; if I’m not mistaken …… but I may be.
I’m not sure there’s anything else for me to say; apart from discovering albums like this is the whole raison d’etre for RMHQ existing. You ain’t ever going to hear Harry Stafford on mainstream radio; and as he’s from Up North he’s hardly likely to catch the attention of Jools Holland’s Later TV programme; so it’s left to the likes of me …….. and more importantly YOU! Tell your most open-minded and imaginative friends and they will owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

Released March 27th 2020