Michael McDermott St PAUL’S BOULEVARD

Michael McDermott
St Paul’s Boulevard
Pauper Sky Records

A Brave and Varied Musical Journey Which Holds its Head Up Optimistically and Boldly

I first got wind of Michael McDermott from friends who’d seen his incendiary performances at a pre-COVID Kilkenny Roots Festival – unfortunately a pandemic got in the way of the ability to consolidate that impact, but now MM is back with “St. Paul’s Boulevard” an album thematically linked by place and character, recorded with a stellar cast including Will Kimbrough, David Grissom and Grant Tye – who for many years was a staple of Robbie Fulks’ band.

The album opens with an aural sound-city scape “Aram Cara” before leaping into the “Dancing in the Dark” paced and styled “Where the Light Gets In”.
The tempo remains pacy on “Our Little Secret” which has the soulful feel of Danny and the Champs, as does the following track “Sick of This Town” where McDermott bemoans the rotting banality of small-town America.

“The Arsonist” takes things down a notch to ballad tempo, a setting where McDermott is at his most affecting – I’ve avoided mentioning Bruce Springsteen up until this point, (he’s often a reference point in reviews of Michael McDermott) but this track conjures up the feel of epic Bruce, with its exploration of personal doubt and mix of dark and light, set against a dynamic mix of guitars and keys – heck, vocally this also verges near to Prince territory in places too.

“New Year’s Day” – one of many songs with this title, sits astride U2 and Slaid Cleaves in its sound over a tale of personal emotional symbolic rebirth. “Meet Me Halfway” takes the exploration of relationships further and tackles issues of communication over a Bon Jovi-type vocal and arrangement (but with far more incisive lyricism than 80’s hair-rock).

“The Outer Drive”, driven (sic) by drums and banjo namechecks “Wonderwall”, but that aside, it’s a song of cars, a girl and escape “with just a hint of holy”.
Classic themes are also seen on “Marlowe”, but in a literary and cultural/historical sense, where everyone from Moses to Michelangelo gets in on the act as touchstones to compare to the effect of a loved one.

Fast strummed guitar kicks in “All That We Have Lost” and it’s soon joined by kick drum and percussion for a stomping and rollocking roll-call of
all that we have lost
from Lincoln to Kennedy and several in between.
This observation on death is shadowed by “Dead By Dawn” with its carpe diem call to embrace a loving moment, to preserve the transient and fleeting bits of goodness that we have.

Title track “St Paul’s Boulevard” is a reflective ode to finding meaning amongst the chaos of life on the eponymous/figurative boulevard, whereas “Pack The Car” again seeks refuge in escape and its myriad possibilities before “Peace, Love and Brilliant Colours” takes an early Steve Earle swerve musically with a rallying cry for community and strength.
“Paris” closes the album out with a sentimental, romantic wish for escape that brings in strings and piano to underscore those rose-tinted, hopefully desires.

On “St Paul’s Boulevard” Michael McDermott has certainly viewed the world in widescreen and technicolour too, on a brave and varied journey which holds its head up optimistically and boldly.
Last time McDermott toured in the UK he was a solo act – here’s hoping that he can bring the band next time to do justice to these broad soundscapes.

Review by Nick Barber
Released 1st July 2022
https://michael-mcdermott.com/

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Billy Hector ROCK NIGHT in JERSEY

Billy Hector
Rock Night in Jersey
Ghetto Surf Music

Bodacious Blues Rock That Errs on The Side of R.O.C.K …. But is Only a 5 or 6 on The Richter Scale!

I first uncovered Billy Hector two albums ago with his OLD SCHOOL THANG release in 2015; and if pulling them out of the cupboard for accompaniment on long car drives makes me a fan; then …. I’m a fan!
Two things I need to tell you before I go any further; a) Billy used to be Hubert Sumlin’s tour guitarist and b) While this is Blues Rock music that errs on the side of R.O.C.K …. it’s only a 5 or 6 on the Richter Scale; which is all I can cope with these days.
The magnificent I Know How To Party gets the show on the metaphorical road; with Billy and cohorts showing the kids how to ‘do it’ both in deed and music.
This is followed by the slow burning She Don’t Love Him Anymore, which leads into some glorious slide-work from the Maestro that will live in the memory long after the album has been replaced by his next release.
There’s a ‘slick cool’ to many of the songs here; and I’m pleased to tell you that the songs themselves take precedence; and the intricate and even revolutionary at times; fretwork and super-pro backing, take a secondary position; regardless of how good it is …. and it’s Damn Good BTW.
Too many ‘famous’ guitarists these days concentrate on guitar fireworks; forgetting that the words in their songs are just as; if not more important than their technical showing off …. which certainly isn’t the case with Billy’s writing on and in Doctor, Doctor and the funkalicious Lazy Man which has a groove so good, Mrs Magpie looked on in disbelief as I boogied around the kitchen to it one night!
There also two covers here too; and while I didn’t recognise either, the choices really are exemplary; Hector does to Leadbelly’s Poor Howard what the Cream did to Crossroads 50 years ago; and the other is actually one of my favourite songs here; France Chance which features some genuinely sizzling guitar work and industrial style powerhouse backing from Sim Cain and Wilbo Wright was actually written by Mississippi Joe Callicott in 1967 on a long forgotten album of his own, that sounds nothing at all like this. I have no idea how a musician can hear Folk Songs like these; and then turn the words and melody into pumping Rockers ….. it’s witchcraft methinks!
Speaking of Favourite Tracks here, I’ve eventually narrowed it down to three (not including France Chance); with the horn section turned up to 8; the slinky Tell Me What You Want has a big band feel to it, with hints of both BB and Freddie King in there too; then there’s the feisty Ms Martha where Billy not just growls his vocals but makes his Strat growl too!
Which only leaves the actual winner; Rockstar Betty, which I fell in love with the first time I played it. More laid back than most songs here; but the bodacious story and supercool refrain; made it an obvious choice, even though the others ran a very close race.
I hear quite a few albums ‘like this’ every year, but there’s ‘something special’ about Billy Hector’s way with words and geetar playing that appeals to me over many more ‘famous names’ on the circuit these days ….. and I can only hope against hope that he visits NE UK sometime soon …. as the audience is ready and waiting.

Released April 2022
https://billyhector.com/

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Tony Baltimore LET’S ALL GO INSANE

Tony Baltimore
Let’s All Go Insane
Conch Town Records

Genre-Fluid Americana; From Folk to Country Via New Orleans on a Saturday Night

Growing up in Maryland to working class parents gave Tony Baltimore a strong work ethic, which served him well when he began playing up to eight shows a week in Key West.
Three albums later and Baltimore has his most accessible collection of songs yet, while doing a good job of checking off all of the requisite Americana check boxes: gospel-tinged backing vocals, funky backbeat drums, snappy Tele-style guitar, and plenty of Hammond B3, but that doesn’t mean he’s a one-trick pony. Co-produced by Ian Shaw, Let’s All Go Insane, is a mix of traditional New Orleans style, alt-country, indie rock, and good old Country-Folk music, making Baltimore a definite genre-fluid artist.
The kick off title song, along with “Seaside Blues,” are pure New Orleans flavored fun, along with “Loot the Joint” which amps up the exuberance considerably.
When Baltimore aims for a party atmosphere he definitely succeeds—and those punchy horns don’t hurt, either!
“Fly Alone” is not your typical love song, rather a one-sided love of patience, hope, and waiting, the violin throughout adding to the quiet desolation.
“Window Pane” gives off Gordon Lightfoot vibes, a story of time passing by, while “Postcard” is a 60’s pastiche of letting go no matter the consequences, making your own way with love at your side.
“Storm the Beach” is the closest Baltimore gets here to protest, yet it’s a doozy, taking both politicians and the media for sowing discord for their own gain.
“That Girl’s Got Eyes” is the album’s pop song and my personal pick for favorite on the album. Contemporary rock guitars and pounding drums, mixed with an extra-catchy chorus, and a vibrant and surprising violin solo.
“What Kind of World” ends the album on a hopeful note, full of triumph and the knowledge that one can always find a way to get by.
Recorded both before, during, and after the pandemic, Let’s All Go Insane is Baltimore’s paen to love and individuality.

Review courtesy the Legendary Roy Peak

Released 17th June 2022
https://tonybaltimore.com/bio

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Chastity Brown SING TO THE WALLS

Chastity Brown
Sing To the Walls
Red House Records

Heartfelt and Gutsily Crafted Soul That’s Guaranteed to Make Your World Shine That Bit Brighter.

Very occasionally, when listening to an artist for the first time, just one particular song has the capability to deliver an almighty gut punch, which in that very moment, is the gateway to connecting with the album and indeed their whole world………. today it has happened courtesy of Minneapolis born Chastity Brown.

Digging deep in the vaults of RMHQ, I am aware there is a lot of ground to cover with regards to Ms Brown and her own contemporary twist on a tapestry woven with threads of Americana Soul, Blues, Gospel and a smattering of Funk: her previous release, Silhouette Of Sirens, was way back in 2017 making Sing to The Walls her first musical offering since Pandemic times.
I was half expecting the album to be ladened with Lockdown frustrations and anxieties, but delighted to discover it simply beams out a joyful positivity, a loving groove which most definitely keeps the glass half full for the duration.

The album swoops in with the first two singles, Wonderment and Backseat, the former kicking off with Chastity’s surging, distinctive rich vocals ringing out, powerfully honest.
Musically softly lapping in at the start, with rhythmic plucking adding a spiritual Indian echo. The current gradually gathers pace to a rising driving beat of guitars, explosive drums leading to a swirl of Hammond keys.
Wow by the end of the track I already feel like I’ve been on one hell of a journey, one where we have perhaps witnessed the artist allowing herself to be gradually released from shackles to embrace new experiences: “letting go.”

Neatly rooted in that same spot, Backseat’s exquisite chant of “I never felt so free” introduces us to a contemporary funk groove pulsing with a strong hooky drum beat, the engine of the track which just screams out to be played on the open road.
Oh, so it makes sense, when I skim the press pack, to discover that Ms Brown nurtured her cool rhythmic vibes by teaming up with two drummers, Brady Black in Stockholm and Greg Schutte at her home studio to work on the album.

Perhaps, because I have just returned from Boston (!), another standout track for me is one bearing same name, making me just want to turn around and head straight back out!
Immediately whisking us to Chastity’s blissful happy zone, it lyrically hangs basking in the first flush of a new romance.
With smooth sensual vocals, rolling casual drums and sweet melodic layers, it leads us to a charmingly exhilarating guitar solo, making it one of the happiest peaks on the album for me.
It does not sit all alone though, there are 10 stunning songs to discover here, and transforming Lockdown into writing time resulted in Chastity Brown having a huge pile of new material at her fingertips.

Golden is the heavyweight track of the album and demands our undivided attention.
It’s the only song steeped in, but not dominated by rage and angst: “Why have I got to be angry?”, this is Chastity boldly laying down her reaction to the racial tensions and riots she has witnessed, some being virtually on her doorstep.
She hits us with the hefty, raw emotional force of her uplifting words, a calling to remain strong and steadfast in the face of adversity.
It’s a message we cannot help but take positive inspiration from, as her exceptional vocal delivery booms out:
Does this black woman’s voice have too much power
Would it go down sweetly if I sang softer?

This album is so seriously good that I’m hopping through the title track Sing to the Walls, a piano driven beautifully crafted tribute to breaking through barriers and the rousing Like A Sun which really does what it says on the tin (!) to finally arrive at that aforementioned killer track which started this whole journey off for me……

Curiosity is an instant smash to my ears, another piano led empowering ballad: heartfelt words to a lost love but not wallowing in self-pity, instead flooded with mature emotions that are full of longing yet uplifting and releasing.
Chastity Brown flips heartbreak spelling out that we have to sometimes endure emotional pain to set us on a path to a happier place.

It’s Curiosity setting into motion,
I was a stranger to myself, when I knew ya
I should say thank you, for loving and leaving me

These sentiments sum up the very essence of an album which causes spirits to be raised a little bit higher with every play. In her own words:
What matters to me is my survival – and for my survival, it has been necessary to try and embrace some joy”.
I cannot imagine there has ever been a better moment than this to catch Chastity’s wave of positivity with Sing To The Walls, as we all try and put our best foot forward again.

Review by Anita Joyce
Released 23rd June 2022
http://chastitybrownmusic.com/

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Jason McNiff TONIGHT WE RIDE

Jason McNiff
Tonight We Ride
Tombola Records

A Clever Left of Centre Selection of Re-Imagined Songs That Influenced This Talented Singer-Songwriter.

As most of you will know by now; I trust my own judgement about music over everyone else’s; hence the website’s Mantra …. that ‘all albums are listened to from start to finish several times before putting pen to paper’ …. but last week I stumbled on a review of this album by someone I admire.
To say I was both shocked and disappointed at their words would be an understatement; but then I got to thinking; had they actually ‘listened’ to the songs at all …. or; God Forbid …. just looked at the track titles (it is a covers album after all) and wrote the script from that?
Sadly it wouldn’t be the first time that happened … trust me!
I on the other hand have played this 5 times before today; in a variety of circumstances and ….. Jason McNiff has exemplary taste in music and I can now see where his ‘style’ has evolved from.
Bert Jansch’s Running From Home is a spectacularly odd choice to start the album; as sadly Jansch and his catalogue have nearly disappeared from view in 2022; but as a young man, Jason sat at the feet of Jansch in the mid 1990’s learning from the Master; and here pays homage by taking a gruff old Folk song; dusting it down; slightly re-arranging it to suit his own voice and (if I’m not mistaken) has increased the tempo a touch; which really showcases his own stunning technique on the acoustic guitar.
This then virtually bleeds into a left of centre Townes Van Zandt song; My Proud Mountains.
Not an obvious choice; but a clever one as Jason again re-arranges it until it sounds very little like the original; but now a contemporary Americana tale for a completely new audience.
That’s actually why I really like this album; it’s the way this young Yorkshire man has taken some wonderful songs from across a variety of singer-songwriter idioms and made them more suited to the 21st Century.
I’ve always raised my eyebrows when either songwriters or music fans say proudly like they ‘only like one particular type of music’ …. I can’t think of anything sadder!
McNiff has selected a wide range of songwriters to cover here; and really does justice to Bob Dylan’s One Too Many Mornings and another song of his that I wasn’t aware of; Precious Angel as he also does with Dear Leonard’s gentle Moving On; which I too have always been fond of.
As with the Townes song; McNiff never takes the obvious route ….. there’s a Beatles song here; Tomorrow Never Knows, which now becomes a Modern Folk song and a million miles away from the original; as is his rendition of the Dire Straits multi-platinum hit single; Tunnel of Love which tooK me two plays for the penny to drop as to what it was! It was only while playing this version that I remembered what a great yet underappreciated songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler was and is.
Perhaps my friend who wrote the other review thought Jason was being vain including two of his own creations here; but why the Hell not? Especially as Shadow Ships of Dartford sits in especially well; with its’ hints of Van Zandt and Jansch in every line.
I Remember You, features some stunning guitar playing; perhaps the best here; and the story could easily be another Dylan B-Side from the 70’s.
This now brings me to the search for a single Favourite Track ….. yegads, that’s not been easy. I was instantly drawn to the relaxed; yet still passionate rendition of Tom Russell’s ‘signature tune’ Tonight We Ride; it’s been a Top 10 song of mine for many years, and young Jason really does it justice in the way he sings the chorus while adding his own signature Country-Folk guitar picking to proceedings.
Then of course there’s another forgotten Modern Classic, The Waterboy’s Fisherman’s Blues which now sounds as if it was written and recorded somewhere South of the Mississippi by a third generation immigrant.
But there is one other; and possibly because it’s a case of ‘right place/right time’ Stephen Foster’s Hard Times, which we would normally associate with Woody Guthrie; and here Jason takes that pathos, doubles it and via his lovely breathy voice; now lets it loose on an unsuspecting but hopefully grateful nation.
Hence this be my Favourite Song on a really special album.

Released 24th June 2022
https://www.jasonmcniff.com/

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RMHQ Radio Show Ep:6 June 19th 2022 On Nova Radio

RMHQ Radio Show
Episode 6
Nova Radio
Newcastle

We’re getting there, 6 episodes and the mistakes are getting fewer and further between. Sadly I was blighted with croaky voice and nagging cough courtesy Hayfever …. but that just focussed my mind for playing ‘more music and less talking’.
As you will see and hear there is a heady mix of old and new songs across the myriad of genres that make up what we know as Roots Music and Americana …. hopefully ‘something for everyone’ …. thanks for listening.

June 19thNeil YoungUnknown Legend
EP 6CS&NWooden Ships
Rolling StonesRoute 66
Eve SellisHeart Shaped Tattoo
Gipsy Dave SmithBlue World
Heather Lynn HortonFlesh & Blood
Jason Isbell & The 400 UnitSave It For Sunday
Kinky FriedmanBorn Under a Wanderin’ Star
Laura Benitez & The HeartacheA Love Like Yours
Dr JohnSleeping Dogs Best Left Alone
Bap KennedyMoonlight Kiss
Johnny DickinsonOcean Blues
Will HogeJohn Prine’s Cadillac
John PrineAngel From Montgomery
Blackie & The Rodeo KingsKing of This Town
Eliza NealsBucket of Tears
Jack BurnessShepherd’s Yard
Ian SegalPsycho
My Darling ClementineI Lost You (But found Country Music)
Michael UbaldiniBeautiful and Bleary Eyed
Lucinda WilliamsPineola
John Paul WhiteHeart Like a Kite
Bobbo ByrnesLast Hurrah
Bobbie CrynerYou’d Think He’d Know Me Better
Five Points GangDrifting Away
Wily Bo WalkerMotel Blues
Slaid CleavesThe Dad Song

Black Deer Festival 2022

Black Deer Festival 2022
Eridge Park,
Royal Tunbridge Wells

A successful return for the UK’s biggest Americana focused festival

Initial disclaimer – I’ve never been a big fan of outdoor festivals ever since the time my tent flooded at Reading Festival in the late 80s, but this time I’d got a lovely AirBnB to retire to of an evening, so I thought I’d give Black Deer a go – its lineup of largely Roots and Americana acts, with a sprinkle of more populist acts like James and Imelda May promised a fine weekend’s entertainment.

Friday, the first day, somewhat overdid things on the weather front – temperatures in the mid-thirties Centigrade meant that acts in shadier environments became more appealing – on that score, I caught the songwriters’ circle in the Ridge tent at the start of the day, where Irish Mythen set a personal benchmark with an effervescent and lively performance: Emily Barker and Caroline Spence contributed acute observational songwriting on ecology and relationships before Imelda May, delayed in traffic and rounded things off with a poem about the female orgasm!

Caroline Spence made a solo appearance with CJ Hillman, immediately afterwards and her summery voice and acoustic arrangements won over many. The Felice Brothers, over on the main stage produced a fiery, rebel rousing set before the polish of Imelda May – after that I decamped to the Ridge tent for reasons of self-preservation and musical choice to see well-received sets from Israel Nash and Shovels & Rope, whose boisterous performances fired up the crowds. Highlight of the day for me though was the “Ozark Holler Hootenanny” over in the smaller Haley’s Bar – a collection of artists based around the trio of Dylan Earl, Jude Brothers and Will Carlisle with a guest appearance from Lady Nade, who delivered a hugely entertaining collection of songs from Arkansas.
A fine end to day one.

Day two and while less sunny, was incredibly humid.
Early performances by Lady Nade in Haley’s bar and slide-blues maestro Jack Broadbent did nothing to lower the temperatures and provided fine evidence of the breadth of UK roots talent. The much anticipated (not least by me) appearance of Courtney Marie Andrews on the main stage was a brave set, with four as of yet officially unreleased songs taking their place amongst CMA’s strong back catalogue. Wilco’s only UK appearance on their current tour followed immediately after and a festival pleasing set including personal faves like “Impossible Germany” went down well – and Courtney Marie Andrews and band were invited back on to join on the band’s performance of “California Stars”.
Things started to take a turn towards the apocalyptic near the end of an energetic set from the Waterboys when the decision was taken by the organisers to evacuate the arena due to rapidly approaching electrical storms – and a correct decision it was too, as the festival site was battered by one of the worst storms I’d seen outside of travels in the US and mainland Europe. It took over an hour to get off the car park but at least in our case there was dry accommodation at the end of our escape.

Incredibly, Sunday saw the site looking as though nothing had happened – a combination of fortunate geology and hard work meant that, other than a last minute pull-out by The War & Treaty, things were unaffected.
Irish Mythen continued her plan for world domination to a supportive crowd on the main stage, whereas Hiss Golden Messenger drew a rapidly growing audience in the Ridge tent – as did John Smith, in trio format with the core of Lauren Housley’s band. At the end of the day, the Americana punter was faced with a stark choice – the Dead South on the main stage or the Drive-By Truckers in the Ridge Tent – this reviewer stuck with the guitar assault of the DBTs and enjoyed it greatly, right up to the emotional denouement by Patterson Hood, dedicating the final song of their set to his terminally ill father-in-law who he would be rushing home to see post gig (and tour).

All in all, this was an entertaining and enjoyable weekend. Audience numbers were good enough to pack the different stages, but not too full to make movement around the site difficult and there was a pleasingly varied mix of people in attendance.
Black Deer isn’t perfect by any means – there were logistical issues for audience, performers and press that could be tightened up – but such is the friendliness of the whole affair, that you’ll struggle to find anything else that succeeds in bringing Roots and Americana to a mass audience in such a successful way. Other festivals with a similar musical focus are often preaching to the musically converted – Black Deer is bringing new and younger ears to the herd.

Review by Nick Barber
https://blackdeerfestival.com/

#Photo – Mike Scott of the Waterboys.
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Strongman Blues Remedy VOLUME 1

Strongman Blues Remedy
Volume: I
Stony Plain Records

Damn Fine Swampy Soul Laced R&B Straight Outta Canada.

Just as I always looked forward to releases from the late lamented Bloodshot Records label; Canada’s Stony Plain has gleefully picked up the mantle, with everything I’ve received from them in the last couple of years being at the very least ‘interesting’ but regularly fascinating and Tip Top from start to finish.
Just when I think that I must have reviewed something or other from absolutely every Canadian Roots musician/band; Stony Plain keep turning up new acts for me to salivate over – such is the case with the quaintly monikered Strongman Blues Band; which is actually the name of founder and frontman, Steve Strongman!
With 7 previous albums under his own name; Strongman decided a slight change of direction was merited, so gathered a bunch of his (Award winning) friends together to record this steamy mix of Rhythm & Blues with a hard lump of solid gold Soul at its heart.
If you didn’t know better, you’d presume the opening track, Hard Luck was recorded in Memphis on a hot July night; as the sweat literally drips out of your speakers as Strongman takes an age old Blues adage; and puts a contemporary 21st Century spin on it ….. with some Jimmie Vaughan style guitar and rinky dinky piano accompanying a crystal clear vocal performance.
That opening track sets the seal on what is to follow; with some sultry and swinging slower numbers like Swansong (featuring vocals from Steve Marriner), the heartbreaker I Don’t Miss (Harrison Kennedy vocals) and; of course the stinging album closer, Love Coming Down, featuring Mr Strongman himself knocking the listener sideways.
As you see so far; the band features a variety of singers; and for once that makes for some fascinating changes in tone and mood; especially Dawn Tyler Watsons’ raspy and full of longing Fine Young Man, which takes us into Sheba Potts Wright territory; and Harrison Kennedys’ second song the bodacious I Like to Ride; which sashays around the room like a nightclub charmer stalking his prey …… if you get my meaning 😉
There’s a golden thread weaving through every track here; even though each and every one is as different as chalk and cheese; and that’s Steve Strongman’s guitar playing and his deeply thoughtful and personal songwriting.
For my Favourite Track it’s come down to a toss of a coin between the heartbreaker White Lightnin’; which is as far removed from the George Jones song of the same name as you can get; with this one reminding me of Roy Buchanan; it’s The Blues of course; but with S.O.U.L at its core and very essence; and the other is the old school Texas Saturday night slow and seedy True To Me; which sizzles and shimmy’s in a way I’ve not heard since Johnny Winter died.
I was going to ignore it; but there’s also a song here that I genuinely don’t like …. and in my defence the happy-go-lucky Jug Band/Honky Tonky rhythm sticks out like a sore thumb anyways; but as a vehemently anti-drugs advocate all my life; Gettin’ Stoned sounds like the sort of throwaway song you’d find on a Lovin Spoonful or Arlo Guthrie album 50 years ago …. and it wouldn’t have aged well either.
Apart from that; I’ll tell you how good this album is; it’s been in my car’s CD Player for well over a week now; much to the detriment of several albums that need listening to prior to their reviews; but HELL! This album and band are so damn good I can’t bring myself to take it out and give them a try!

Released June 17th 2022
https://stonyplainrecords.com/strongmanbluesremedy/

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Pharis & Jason Romero TELL ‘EM YOU WERE GOLD

Pharis & Jason Romero
Tell ‘Em You Were Gold
Smithsonian Folkways

Timeless, Intelligent and Classy Canadian Folk Music

I’ve long been aware of Canadian couple Pharis & Jason Romero for a few years now; first reviewing them way back in my ‘printed magazine’ days; so have a soft spot for their classy Canadian Folk songs and tunes; even though Jason’s self-made *banjos are the lead instrument.
This is their 7th album; and was recorded in their re-constructed barn in the quaintly monikered Horsefly, British Columbia.
The charming Souvenir opens with some intricate banjo picking; followed by the pair’s honeyed harmonies on a gloriously dark love song.
Even with a banjo at the fore; Pharis and Jason don’t make ‘happy clappy’ music; theirs is a lot more thoughtful and deep; as is shown with Sour Queen with Pharis taking lead and telling us;
We’re always older than yesterday,
but I don’t change and you won’t stay,

How cool is that?
Although Canadian through and through; and I can tell the difference; but there’s more than a hint of Greenwich Village coffee shops in the way they construct their songs; and actually deliver the likes of Rolling Mills and Been All Around This World.
Fear not though; while the template they use is old-timey and even Classic Folk; there’s a biting contemporary edge to each and every song; just don’t be surprised if they drop a Ramblin’ Jack Elliott or Odetta song into their live sets.
Without ever showing off; there are a couple of delightful and labyrinthine instrumentals here that will leave you spellbound; especially the jig Lady On The Green; and the intricate SS Radiant and Five Miles to Town aren’t too shabby either.
Pharis and Jason aren’t ever going to headline Lollapalooza or Glastonbury; but they are very capable of filling a large tent on the other side of the field; and I’m sure when that particular knowledgeable audience come away after hearing Going Across the Sea, Train On The Island and/or the haunting Rolling Mills, they will be the smug ones on the way home, knowing they had seen and heard two of the finest musicians at the festival.
Which now only leaves me to select a Favourite Song as I’m prone to do; yesterday my notes say it was going to be the starkly beautiful Black Guard Mary, which Pharis oozes grace and quality as Jason subtly accompanies her without ever coming close to upstaging his partner; but today I’ve been drawn back to Cannot Change at All, which loosely reminds me of Joan Baez at her mid sixties peak; but is pure Pharis and Jason Romero at its core.
Before I forget; many of these songs and tunes are filled out not just by Pharis and her rather excellent guitar picking; but by their exceptionally talented friends; fiddlers Grace Forrest and Trent Freeman, pedal steel player Marc Jenkins, bassist Patrick Metzger, and John Reischman on mandolin.
Traditional Folk Music has never been my favourite idiom, as a lot can be ‘worthy’ and even ‘boring’ but here; this majestic couple transcend time and genre to create music that will or at least, should appeal to fans of all ages and hues.

*banjos – I once famously coined the expression ‘banjo fatigue’ as I was sick of hearing acts trying to be ‘authentic’ by including this much maligned instrument. Thankfully as the years have gone by; it’s now left to Mastercraftsmen like Jason Romero to show what a fabulous instrument this can be …. when played properly.

Released June 17th 2022
http://www.pharisandjason.com/

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http://www.pharisandjason.com/music
https://folkways.si.edu/pharis-jason-romero/tell-em-you-were-gold
https://pharisjasonromero.bandcamp.com/album/tell-em-you-were-gold

Paul Thompson LONE STAR (Album & Book)

Paul Thompson
Lone Star (album and book)
Self-Release

A Celestial Dreamscape of Folk-Pop Weaving a Spellbinding Story Defying Time and Space.

The end of the world as we know it!
Humanity reborn.
Finding love across time dimensions?
WOW … this is a powerful new world that RMHQ has dropped me in!
Okay let me explain…. whilst lyrics are the icing on the cake for me, whether reviewing or purely listening to new music, to be handed an accompanying book with each song transformed into a fictional short chapter amounting to an apocalyptic, thought-provoking, imaginative and emotive story … is the cherry on top!
An old school concept album for our post pandemic era!
My hand is up and I’m taking the trip on this Norfolk based troubadour’s 5th album release.

The title track Lone Star charmingly launches the album. Without any prior knowledge of this artist, Paul Thompson’s vocals are instantly soothing, a touch fragile and underpinned in sensitivity. The hypnotic waltz melody of a bright pickin’ guitar welcomes us in like we’ve always been together, evoking the delightful simplicity of Folk-Pop songs of yesteryear but with a serenely relaxed timeless feel and pace. Lyrically it establishes the recurrent album themes of loss and separation, preserving hope and never abandoning the quest for happiness: the lone star being the symbolic beacon of connectivity.

I know I’ve done wrong, I’ve done time
This love I seek will be mine
I’m a lone star, always shines bright
Waiting for you, in the night
.”

You Never Said follows with upbeat strumming and a shimmering harmonious electric guitar solo, Mr Thompson has the power to musically suspend his audience in a delightfully comforting joyful trance, whilst communicating deep and challenging themes.
The words are reflective, full of regret for what has been lost, yet forever optimistic that a better world will be unearthed one day. The sentiments ring true especially when we learn that the whole album was inspired during Lockdown when the artist lived in a rural log cabin.
Worth also noting that with the exception of drumming courtesy of Rob Brian, he plays all the instruments on the album, making The Lone Star a very personal creation.

Close on it’s tail follows two irresistible tracks: Darling Will You is a declaration of love, a dreamier slower pace and steeped in the blissful loveliness of ’60s/’70s mystical B/V’s.
Paul Thompson’s vocals are gentle and heartfelt, as if just lifting the words fresh off the page and delivering them straight to his intended.
Maybe Tomorrow bounces in next with a leisurely, naturally sprightly sweet mandolin beat, it takes us clipping clopping down a lyrical path of going with the flow but still searching for what is important and true in life.

The storytelling binds the album together, each track adding another intriguing layer.
Track eight, From Where We Came, is oh so unstoppably catchy, with the singer holding long notes, reinforcing the song’s uplifting take on the passing of time, whilst exploring the theme of destruction and rebirth.

Watch the colour turn, coat of fallen leaves
And I will think of you, will you come again
Though we fall, we are one
The tapestry of time
Fire and rain, earth and sky
We return again from where we came
.”

My favourite track is actually the opener Lone Star, but a close runner up is Paradise Lost which shifts the mood to one of unrest: the electric guitar echoes with dramatic discord creating a foreboding tone. The words are a warning not to be tempted by dark choices in life.

Paul Thompson immediately returns us to a happy place with Under The Lights, a nostalgic melting pot of Christmas day memories as a child. The song has a charming naivety, a touch of Jonathan Richman for me here too.
Finally, the epic 7:12 min long Cloud Dreamer wraps up the adventure, an expressively pleasing conclusion with guitar reverb calling out in unison with the heavenly vocals, emphasising a dreamscape mood: Paradise can be discovered here on Earth if we look hard enough for it.

The accompanying book contains 12 bite size chapters, one representing each song, expanding on Mr Thompson’s imaginative lyrics. It is based on a post- apocalyptic Earth where humanity is starting anew after mankind destroyed the planet.
The love story between Daniel from the old world and Arzella many years into the future is guided by the Lone Star. Without giving away spoilers there are multiple parallels that we can all relate to. Preserving Mother Nature, allowing ourselves time to take stock and re-value what is truly important especially hits the mark at this point in time.

Life is hard, she thought. We don’t always find the things we look for, but we must try

Although containing some adult themes, the book has a wonderfully playful quality akin to The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, as the author expresses quite deep and poignant messages about the worst vices in our society by describing the greedy/evil behaviour of certain characters we encounter along the way. His clear message being that it is the kind, simple, non-materialistic heart-warming actions in life that are the key to unlocking a brighter world.

Paul’s world of music and stories undoubtably operate splendidly independently, yet together they really create an enchanting place to visit.
He is about to hit the road over the coming months to showcase the album, the songs accompanied by reading extracts from his book.
Some of the gigs will be from his campervan, complete with it’s own stage: I can’t imagine any nicer way to escape real life than to catch an outdoor show, sit under the stars on a warm Summer’s night and keep an eye out for The Lone Star myself.

Review courtesy Anita Joyce
Released 17th June 2022
https://www.paulsmusic.co.uk/

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://www.paulsmusic.co.uk/lone-star