World Weary and Grizzled British Country Rock to Stir The Soul.
All I seem to take from the accompanying Press Release is that The Blue Highways are probably British, were formed in 2018 and Bob Harris likes them. But perhaps that’s all we need to know, as the music they create certainly ‘does the talking’ for them. The powerful opening track He Works kick-starts the EP like pouring petrol on a BBQ! This tale of guy who works hard day in and day out without complaint suddenly has his world turned upside down; giving him the opportunity to finally live the life he daydreams about ……. but does he take it? All in all He Works is a very clever and intelligent song masquerading as a 4 to the floor Country Rocker with additional horn section. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this song came from the Southern States and not Southern England! Callum Leary’s world weary and grizzled vocals and a muscular rhythm somehow lift the next song, the almost Shakespearean Blood Off Your Hands into Black Crowes territory, if I’m not mistaken. Next out of the traps, Matter of Love buzzes along like it’s tail is on fire, and this enigmatic and twisted Love Song manages to question the whole concept of love, if you listen carefully …….. but even if I’m wrong, it has a very catchy chorus anyways. With British Country and UK Americana in the ascendancy today, but judging by those first three songs The Blue Highways have decided to quite rightly, ‘out rock’ every one else on the scene; but they also throw a splendid ‘curve ball’ with the final track Have You Seen My Baby, which is more of an acoustic heartbreaker; and even without the aid of the splendid Henry Senior Jr. from Danny and the Champs supplying some truly maudlin pedal-steel would more than likely have been my Favourite Song by a Country Mile. From their profile pictures The Blue Highways are unfeasibly young to have created such a mature and well crafted songs; but they have and this EP is certainly well worth hunting down regardless of which side of the Atlantic you live on.
American Young Soundtrack Of Your Life Curb Records
Timeless Country Tales of Teenage Heartbreak and Love.
American Young aka Kristy Osmunson and Jon Stone American Young aka via their singles and regular UK Festival appearances have been on my radar for a couple of years now; but this is the first time I’ve really found the time to listen to them in one proper listening session. The first thing you need to know about this EP is that Mrs Magpie has already claimed it for her car. The opening track (and current single) Gonna Be You is a real powerhouse duet, with both crystal clear voices swooping and soaring like eagles just waiting to catch their prey unawares; and when they do zoom in for your heart; there’s nothing you can do but fall in love with them. Presumably targeting hormonal and heartbroken young women (I know ……. Mrs. Magpie shouldn’t fall into either camp; should she?) American Young leave no emotion unmoved here; with the second track Die Another Day being a Soundtrack to a Saturday night after being dumped by your first love and features Jon Stone wringing the pathos out of every single word while Kristy sounds a bit like every girl who ever broke my heart before I met my true love (aaaaaahhhhh); and ‘no’, I never did ‘just want to be friends.’ The songwriting on all 5 songs is exemplary; as you’d expect from a band with their pedigree, but Seminole Wind, which closes the EP was still a surprise, with it’s opening maudlin fiddle before Kristy takes the mood into the Country territory I personally prefer and bodes well for the direction that American Young may and should tread on future releases. That leaves two songs, the spectacular title track Soundtrack Of Your Life which could actually go on to be a Modern Country Classic as it ticks every box in the manual; and Kristy even hints at sounding a tad like both Reba and Trisha as she showcases her ‘big voice’ which is usually underplayed in the duets. The other is actually my Favourite Song here; Falling Star. Possibly because it ‘jars a little’ sitting as it does in the middle; Stone manages to really tug at the heartstrings with his rich voice, and Kristy’s shadowing harmonies sound almost ghostly by comparison. A very clever song, but one that will be cruelly ignored by the Radio Stations as there are so many other easy picking here ……. but you and I know where to look for quality; don’t we? I think it’s fair to say American Young fit in perfectly to the current swathe of Harmonious Country Acts from Little Big Town through to our very own The Shires; with a sound so smooth you can almost skate on it; but hey …….. that doesn’t make it bad at all; just very commercial and perfect for radio and a demographic who want to hear songs that ‘get them’ and American Young most certainly do that.
Warner Bros. Pictures will release a cinematic film version of Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, ‘Western Stars’, worldwide, on the big screen. Longtime collaborator Thom Zimny directs together with Springsteen in his directorial debut. The announcement was made today by Toby Emmerich, Chairman Warner Bros. Pictures Group. ‘Western Stars’, which will make its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, is slated for release this Autumn. Springsteen’s first studio album in five years, ‘Western Stars’ marks a departure for the legendary singer/songwriter while still drawing on his roots. Touching on themes of love and loss, loneliness and family and the inexorable passage of time, the documentary film evokes the American West—both the mythic and the hardscrabble—weaving archival footage and Springsteen’s personal narration with song to tell the story of Western Stars. ‘Western Stars’ offers fans the world over their only opportunity to see Springsteen perform all 13 songs on the album, backed up by a band and a full orchestra, under the cathedral ceiling of his historic nearly 100-year-old barn. Emmerich stated, “Bruce lives in the super rarified air of artists who have blazed new and important trails deep into their careers. With ‘Western Stars,’ Bruce is pivoting yet again, taking us with him on an emotional and introspective cinematic journey, looking back and looking ahead. As one of his many fans for over 40 years, I couldn’t be happier to be a rider on this train with Bruce and Thom.” ‘Western Stars’, Springsteen’s 19th studio album, has achieved global success. It has been #1 on the iTunes charts on every continent, including such countries as the U.S., the UK, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, India, South Africa, and all of Scandinavia, among other countries. It has also received rave reviews, with critics using words like “hauntingly brilliant,” “beguiling,” “gorgeous” and a “masterpiece.” Springsteen and Zimny, who together helmed ‘Western Stars’, have collaborated on several projects over the years, including the documentary ‘The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town’, and the Netflix filmed version of the Tony Award-winning ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ which Zimny directed. ‘Western Stars’ is written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, with Special Guest Patti Scialfa. Thom Zimny, Jon Landau, Barbara Carr and George Travis produced the film, with Springsteen serving as executive producer. The original score is by Springsteen.
Probably better known as a film maker and writer, we find Modern Renaissance Man Don Cherel in very reflective mood on his debut album as a singer-songwriter. Looking at the films he’s made ( https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5905734/ ) it’s oddly pleasing to find that he’s an old ‘Folkie’ with a ‘Country Soul’ at heart. Opening track Love’s a Funny Thing, that if it was any more laid back, it would be horizontal; yet is the perfect accompaniment for a cold beer or chilled white wine on a sunny evening; and the clever lyrics will have quite a few listeners pursing their lips and thinking “Ain’t that the truth Brother!” Sitting hear listening, with my feet up and headphones firmly in place, Don Cherel’s insightful songwriting is often deceptively wrapped up in a Soft Rock backing; but listen carefully to Just Because or Man of Steel and you will realise that you are in the presence of a very articulate and clever man of words. Cherel has a velvety sheen to his vocals that will draw you in to Brown Eyed and Blue or possibly Miracles Happen; and when you are ensnared the stories unravel in such a way you will find yourself rewinding just to clarify where the twists and turns in the tales are; and what they mean. As a ‘man of a certain age’ the first names that sprung to mind when I first played this CD last week were Tom Paxton and James Taylor; and while I’m not saying that Don Cherel should be revered in those lofty echelons; but after listening to this album quite a few songs have made me smile, especially the final two songs Fish and Whistle and I Do Fly I bet Don has quite a few of their albums in his collection. but one which brings me to the two songs that I have to seperate to choose a Favourite Track. Sue Ellen stands out as it is a dark and brooding Alt. Country shoe-gazer that reminded me of someone from my younger days and the rolling acoustic lament, sung as a glorious duet (with an unnamed female on my copy) Can’t Love You Like I Used To probably took me back to that time in my life too and therefore takes the accolade; but is one of only a handful of songs here that isn’t ‘radio friendly’; but sometimes deeply personal songs like this need to be kept as a bit of a secret, don’t they? There’s a whole lot to like here; none more so than the subtle instrumentation from the musicians that surround, yet never come close to over playing their hand in this rather lovely record.
Jason Hawk Harris Love and the Dark Bloodshot Records
Pushing the Boundaries of Even Insurgent Country!
I somehow doubt Bloodshot Records have a huge team of A&R Execs haunting the dive bars across America seeking out the next Band to join their never ending roster of Insurgent Country acts. But how else do you explain finding someone like Jason Hawk Harris? You’re never going to find his like on America’s Got Talent or whatever it’s called; and I guess there’s another 99 singers and bands who sound a bit like him who sent in cassettes of their songs too; but weirdly only Jason fits the Bloodshot bill, and he does it quite perfectly too. I can’t even tell you what the Bloodshot ‘signature sound’ is; as every act is so very different; but right from the serenely sparkling opening track The Smoke and The Stars you just know this is a marriage made in Insurgent Country Heaven and you are the Guest of Honour. I doubt I’m going to hear a more Countrier Country Drinkin’ song this year than Cussin’ at the Light which follows tout suite; and you can easily imagine the Ghost of George Jones smiling down benignly when he hears it; especially when Natalie Nicoles seamlessly slides in on harmony vocals. Harris’s observations in his songs might pass a few by; especially if you are too busy dancing to Blessed Interruption, Confused or the irresistible ‘Honky-Tonky’ Red Room Blues; but at some stage take the time to actually listen to his words; you won’t regret it. Before I get around to telling you about my Favourite Track, I’ve got to mention the staggering Grandfather which closes the album. WOW! The only other songwriter that I can think of who would dare to write a Country song like this, is Jason Isbell, and there’s even something in Harris’ phrasing that reminds me of Isbell too and it’s only because there’s an even stronger and stranger song here that means this amazing song is only my Second Favourite Song on this record. Would could be better than that? Phantom Limb, is the answer. There are so many lines I can cherry pick to explain why this particular song has taken my breath away; but I’m going to select a couplet to wet your appetite ……. Harris softly describes his mother’s funeral thus, “I got this shirt. Smells like the viewing/ Formaldehyde, tobacco and tulips/ I’ve washed it ten times, and it won’t come out.” Dark and dangerous, gloomy and enigmatic but always accessible and full of songs that genuinely pushes the boundaries of Country Music in all its various formats ……. and my world is so much better for knowing this album exists.
This video series adds to the Rainey Day Fund’s mission to amplify marginalized voices within the roots music community.
HUDSON VALLEY, New York — In partnership with Beehive Productions, the nonprofitRainey Day Fund today launched the Rainey Day Recordings, a series of live videos showcasing artists the Fund believes should be heard. The first installment features Amythyst Kiah, to be followed up in coming months with performances by Natalia Zukerman, Giri & Uma Peters, and others. In the current conversations regarding the rampant gender disparities at play in country music, rarely do other marginalized voices earn even a mention. However, if the system is to be disrupted or dismantled, change must be inter-sectional rather than incremental, including artists of color, artists with disabilities, artists within the LGBTQ+ community, and others who add to the rich fabric of roots music. For, to paraphrase Pete Seeger, we’re stronger when we rise together. That’s where the Rainey Day Fund comes in. Named after Ma Rainey — the queer, Black “Mother of the Blues” — the Rainey Day Fund provides assistance to performers through its two main components: a micro-grant fund and a suite of professional services — each available to minority artists at key moments in their careers. The Rainey Day Fund does not have an open application process. Instead, it relies on a number of advisors in the music industry to recommend artists for consideration. The organization does, however, have an open donation policy. The current goal is to raise $25,000 to finance the yearlong video series and an additional $25,000 for the micro-grant program. If you would like to donate either financial resources or professional services to support a Rainey Day musician, or for more information about the fund, please contact Kelly McCartney, email@example.com The Rainey Day Fund is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit project of TKDubs Productions Ltd. https://www.raineydayfund.org/https://www.beehivepro.com/
Robert Randolph & The Family Band Brighter Days Provogue/Mascot Records
An Emotional Roller-coaster Gospel, Soul, Rhythm & Blues Fusion With Added Funkliciousness.
Hallelujah Brothers and Sisters! I’ve been having something of a wobble recently regarding the carrying on the site; then along comes this exciting, and it has to be said ‘Thrill a Minute’ Gospellish Blues AND Soul album from someone I’ve never heard of to lift my Spirits and restore my Faith in the Glory of Great Music! Apparently Robert Randolph started his illustrious career playing pedal-steel alongside a Gospel Choir in Church and that glorious combination comes alive again on the Fire and Brimstone Gospel-Soul hybrid that makes up opening track Baptise Me and never goes away. Obviously Randolph’s steel guitars are front and centre here; but there is so much more going on here it’s easy to forget that as choirs come and go, the bass player thinks he’s in Sly Stone’s ‘Family Band’ and the drummer plays as if his life depends on it…… oh; and Randolph has one Helluva sounding voice too. For the uninitiated this is one Powerful album; in both words and deeds; with songs like Have Mercy and the gently beautiful I Need You sounding like they wouldn’t have been out of place on a George Benson or Jeffrey Osborne album; while Strange Train and Don’t Fight It need the dial turned to 11 to get the best from them; if your speakers can take the bass. Randolph takes us on a veritable emotional and physical Rollercoaster ride, making us think deeply on Simple Man, then rocking our Souls when necessary and then breaking our hearts with Secondhand Man and then Cry Over Me featuring the delightful voice of Lanesha Randolph. Choosing a Favourite Track was a little easier than I at first thought it would be; as the more I’ve played BRIGHTER DAYS (which is the perfect title for this collection btw) one song has stuck in my brain like an earworm; the funklicious I’m Living Off The Love You Give, which throws Stevie, The Staple Singers and Prince into a melting pot then adds Randolph’s own special blend of spices and comes out the other end with an R&B song that punches you right in the centre of the heart so hard it will make your eyes pop! While my references are from my own back catalogue; this album and the wild instrumentation is very much of the ‘Now’ 2019. Hearing this album was akin to hearing Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions for the very first time……….. it was a game changer for me; mixing Rock & Roll with Soul, Blues and the Cosmos and creating something I’d never heard before. Yep, Robert Randolph has taken a whole load of influences and rung the living daylights out of them, until he has created a very, very distinctive sound that will make your feet tap and your heart dance.
Modern Country Teenage Tearjerkers and Heartbreakers
Baring in mind the ‘Twitter debate’ I’ve had today, my review of this EP from young Nu-Country singer-songwriter may well be a complete waste of time. Why? You might well ask. Well, Olivia Lane is a young and rising star, and her debut single So Good It Hurts, which opens this release with vim, vigour and a catchy chorus has already had ‘ had 300k+ streams and over four million video views in the first few weeks of release’ plus a cumulative stream tally in excess of 18 million plays on various platforms. With those numbers putting RMHQ not just in the shade but the crapper as well, will anyone buy this 6 song EP as a result of my words? In another time Olivia’s heartbreakers; no ……. good old fashioned ‘weepies’ Friend’s Don’t and The One would have young women (and a few young men) queuing round the block on Saturday morning to buy them and play the 45RPM vinyl; but today? Ms Lane has a lovely ‘burr’ to her Houston born voice that will warm the cockles of your heart; especially on the epic Celtic tinged Country of The Cape which will have young women swaying along and punching the air when they hear this in concert . Then there is the final song, Not Know. Probably not the most commercial song here, but one that is sparklingly ‘mature’ in a Dixie Chicks/Ashley Monroe kinda way; and is the Favourite of both Mrs. Magpie and myself . As I’ve alluded to I’m not the intended demographic; wrong gender and probably 40 years too old! But Olivia Lane can not just deliver a cracking Country Song, of the Nu variety …….. but more importantly; write one too. A talent well worth watching out for.
Classical Jazz from Rock & Roll’s Coolest Piano-Man
As is my won’t, I never read the Press Release before I play an album as I don’t want to prejudge my thoughts on the music. WOAH…..WOAH …….. and thrice WOAH! I wasn’t prepared in the slightest for what I heard here. I was well over a minute into opening track Crescent Crawl when I got to thinking, “When’s he going to sing?” The answer is ……. NEVER! Some of my favourite musicians are pianists; but 99% of the time they sing too, or are part of an ensemble cast ……. not so here; acclaimed, multi-award winning and mega-talented Bruce Katz just let’s his fingers (and feet) do the talking, and after thirty years of composing, touring and playing this is his ‘debut solo album’; just him and a grand piano in a studio with brilliant acoustics and no safety net to speak of. That opening track Crescent Crawl actually prepares you for what is to follow, a slightly New Orleans tinged Jazz piece that somehow sets your heart racing as well as being the perfect mellow accompaniment to a Summer’s evening (or Spring, Fall or Winter too!). I don’t want to call these tracks ‘tunes’ as they are far more complex, more ‘pieces’ in the Classical sense; with Dreams of Yesterday, Easy Living and Red Sneakers both reminding me of an old Scott Joplin Ragtime LP I had; while the raffish Down at the Barrelhouse and Praise House are straight from a night listening to Professor Longhair, surely? There’s a beautiful fluidity to Katz’ playing style that is truly unique, albeit with flourishes of Dr. John and Randy Newman here and there; but that’s probably just the pedant in me coming out. I can’t think of much better, or indeed more thrilling than one night hearing Bruce Katz playing It Hurts Me Too in Hall 1 at Sage Gateshead; but Red Sneakers will be perfect for a night in the Prohibition Bar drinking gin wit my best gal by my side; such is the amazing diversity and dexterity on offer on this album. Choosing a favourite ‘piece’ has been challenging in itself; but I think I’m finally going for the deeply emotional The Way to Your Heart, which is one part Classical, one part Jazz and one part Heavenly; but the Honky-Tonky finale Watermelon Thump deserves a ‘Highly Rated’ too. Suffice to say this album has come out of leftfield and has been a challenge at times; but Bruce Katz’ amazing talent won me over and I think that I’m now a fan; and would certainly travel some distance to see him play In Concert. # If I’d read the Press Release before listening I’d have discovered that Katz has for 30 years or so been the piano player in both Gregg Allman’s band and various Allman/Betts/Trucks offshoots as well as Duke Robillard, Maria Muldaur and friend of RMHQ Mr Ronnie Earl’s band too ….. so yes, I’m correct in letting the music do the talking …… as this don’t sound like none of that!
Even though I have a couple of friends who will regularly travel hundreds of miles to see Eilen Jewell on her regular visits to the UK, she has somehow passed me by and remains a mystery to me. I can’t think why. It’s just one of those things. So, I was quite excited when I received this, her 8th album, GYPSY . MMMmmmm ……. I instantly liked opening track Crawl, a punchy and bouncy Country Rocker of old, graced by a shimmering fiddle from Katrina Nicholayeff and some excellent guitar interplay from Jerry Miller and Eilen herself. The pace immediatly drops to a lazy afternoon stroll for Track #2 Miles to Go; and therein lies the beauty of this album and I’m assured, Eilen Jewell herself …….. she can turn her hand and mind to anything in the Americana gamut and put her own distinctive stamp on it. It’s easy to hear the apprenticeship which started with her busking on the streets of Santa Fe and ultimately touring the world, coming to fruition with clever, intelligent and always accessible songs like the dark and brooding Working Hard For Your Love juxtaposed with the poignantly political 79 Cents (The Meow Song); which should be on every school curriculum across the USA; and the ethereal title track Gypsy, all of which are disparately different but come together to create a series of mood swings that will all end with you smiling, although tears will well in your eyes. When it comes to choosing a Favourite Song I really am spoiled for choice; there’s the straight up Classic Country of These Blues and You Cared Enough to Lie, which if I didn’t know any better must surely have been a hit for Patsy Cline; but is actually a Pinto Bennett song that Eilen very much brings to life. Another contender is Fear, which closes the record and straddled Folk, Alt. and Country in the way I normally associate with Ms Nanci Griffith; but I’m going for HARD TIMES, a folk anthem that follows in the footsteps of many songs of a similar title; and in 2019 I’d have hoped such words and sentiments would have been banished to the history books……. but instead of invoking the spirits of Woody Guthrie and Steinbeck; Eilen Jewell is singing about what she sees daily from her window. A sad indictment of our times; but a beautiful song none the less. This album has been quite a journey for me; and I could see from the first play why so many people are devoted fans, yet she remains unknown to me and millions of others ……. let’s put that right now; go buy this album!