An Imaginative and Loving Sideways Look at Living In LA
Probably because there are so many songs on here (13) I’ve struggled to find the time to give it it’s due desserts…… until today. A founder member of the famed Paisley Underground scene, Tolman has released 8 albums under his own moniker and 2 with his previous band True West prior to this release; yet sadly his name didn’t resonate when he sent me this shiny new disc. After playing the first two tracks, Los Angeles and Kid, in the car last Friday I realised the loss was mine; not his. For the uninitiated like me I’m not sure where Tolman’s music fits in; as there are hints at Country, Americana and even Pop in quite a few songs; but theirs also a sense of grown up humour too; especially with 405 where he somehow manages to make traffic jams on said Highway sound romantic and windswept to this old Englishman; and later Satellite Bar is the type of thing I’d expect from Barenaked Ladies or the like. Tolman himself has quite the droll singing voice; but that added to the undoubted twinkle in his eye makes his songs perfectly suitable for the more ‘mature’ of us; and I defy listeners not to smile when they find themselves absentmindedly singing along to either Yuba City or Take It Easy, Take It Slow; which alongside the the self depreciating Time Flies will be a signature tune for many of us, especially the chorus of:
“The clock it takes a stroll Every day takes its toll And you find yourself not wiser not smarter Just old. Time Flies but wisdom walks”
Come on; what’s not to like? I’d love to think Tolman’s odes to his American homeland and especially The City of Angels, can find a home there, as I worry that Randy Newman type ‘irony’ that packs every poptastic line in North Hollywood Dream and the title track Goodbye El Dorado may just be better accepted in Europe and beyond. Hmmmm ….. choosing a favourite song isn’t as easy as it might be; as a couple I’ve already mentioned should be contenders; but I’m going to give a Tie to the dryly amusing love song Do You Like The Way and the jaunty Pacific Rain; which made me smile and my toes tap, while mumbling the catchy chorus …….. again; what’s not to like? Of course there’s a place for Russ Tolman in Americana’s huge pantheon and I’m pretty sure his fans will be the type that aren’t swayed by arrogant music reviewers and rely more on word of mouth from their well honed and knowledgeable friends; of whom I now count myself as one too. PS The CD has 13 tracks and the download 10.
Paul McClure Daddy Will You Hold My Hand Clubhouse Records
To promote the pre-orders on his next album MARKET TOWN our chum Paul McClure has just released this super Video single of the single Daddy Will You Hold My Hand . In lesser hands this charming ode to his daughter could easily have been twee beyond belief; but McClure capture the innocence and magic a child’s words can have with grace; and the singer knows well enough that this won’t last forever; so will cherish every one of these moments he can. Oh, if only more parents understood that, the world would be a much better place for us all.
The Stars Have Aligned For The Chameleon of Americana.
For the second time this week I’ve been listening to an album by an artist that sounds unlike anything they’ve recorded previously; which is a) challenging and b) a very good thing. When posting a single, earlier this year from from Josh Ritter’s 10th album FEVER BREAKS I described him as a chameleon; and now I’m immersed in the whole album I can’t think of a better word to describe his career and this actual set of songs. First and foremost; these songs are both stereotypical Josh Ritter and the very heart and soul of what we know as Americana. The punchy and almost American Gothic The Ground Don’t Want Me opens proceedings like a rusty Camero……. stinging words that are only matched by a pedal-steel; alongside a neat toe-tapping beat from the singer and his band. Oddly enough it’s a song that will sit comfortably in a Honky-Tonk and a Theatre; which is quite some achievement. Next up is the single That Ole Black Magic, which we loved earlier in the year and sitting alongside it’s peers it still sounds full of piss n vinegar; and Ritter has already shown the Hip Kids how to put the Alt. into Country and we are only two songs in! Mercifully not everything is quite so Fast n Furious; Josh slows things down in a manner that’s not a million miles away from the style Dylan perfected on Nashville Skyline; The Torch Committee tells a very dark tale that is sadly as relevant today as it was when set in the 1950’s; All Some Kind of Dream is as dark as it’s sad as Josh sings of today’s American attitude to immigration and compares it to his country’s forefathers…….. and it’s well worth seeking out. Perhaps Jason Isbell’s production brings out something special in Ritter’s storytelling via these varied arrangements; but I’d never have known he had his stamp on this album if I hadn’t been force fed it via the Press Release, as Ritter’s mature storytelling on A New Man and On The Water would have risen to the surface regardless of whoever was twiddling the knobs in the control room. As is my won’t I must now select a Favourite Song and that’s been far from easy, as nearly every song here has it’s merits, with the lonesome Silverblade being as good a Country song as I’ve ever heard from this songwriter; and then there’s the delightfully sensitive Blazing Highways Home which is clever, articulate and humble in equal measures; but I’m going back to I Still Love You (Now and Then) which is the type of Love Song that Americana Music does better than any other genre; and Ritter manages to capture the emotions that linger after a breakup better than most; and if I say it’s in the mould of Guy Clark’s latter-day songs; that should be praise enough. Josh Ritter has been around a long time time, grafting away on the circuit and only releasing albums when he felt the material was strong enough; and it’s quite possible that the stars have finally aligned for him on this rather wonderful album.
Bears Den So That You Might Hear Me Communion Records
Dazzling Adult Orientated Folk Rock.
This is a bit of a challenge for me; as I thought I already liked Bears Den; but following an exhaustive search couldn’t find anything by them in my collection and when I YouTube’d them didn’t recognise a single song! So…… let’s pretend they are a new band from three streets down and are looking for a ‘leg up’. Mmmmmmmm …… opening track the multi-layered Hiding Bottles is intriguing and very easy on the ear; although the subject matter is very dark indeed when you take the trouble to unpick Andrew Davie’s words, even when played VERY LOUD; which isn’t the case with the whole album; but it’s quite the ear-catching start. With what little knowledge I had I’ve been surprised; pleasantly by the way, at the inclusion of synth’s on a lot of songs; although there is one simply amazing acoustic tracks Breaker/Keeper which is a contender for RMHQ Favourite Track status. But the core and essence of SO THAT YOU MIGHT HEAR ME is their clever mixing of intellectually stimulating and articulate Modern Folk songs with an often epic Electro backing, utilising a Synthesizer as subtly as humanly possible on Not Every River and the immaculate Evangeline. This hasn’t been an easy album to review; as Davie and Jones manage to conjure up all kinds of weird magic as they criss-cross our emotions and senses with Fuel On The Fire, Crow and Laurel Wreath which all remind me of two of my favourite ‘cult bands’ like The The and most especially The Blue Nile. Perhaps it’s the way Andrew Davie sings on a couple of songs; most notably the delightful piano led Conversations With Ghosts that makes him sound Scottish; not unlike Paul Buchanan from The Blue Nile, which is particularly odd….. but true none the less. Selecting a Favourite Track was quite easy though; as one song hit me straight between the eyes from first hearing its the opening lines: “I feel your fingers on my spine And all the rocks that I was too afraid to climb And the fossils that we found back then Reveal themselves through my whole life.” on Fossils that makes these enigmatic words and almost semi-classical guitar plus an ethereal keyboard will leave you spellbound too; and then as the song builds and builds and builds in an almost claustrophobic manner you might even forget to breathe! I’ve fallen in love with this album on its very own merits; and hope Bears Den’s existing and ever growing fan base will too; but I feel a few of them might find it a tad challenging.
An Exciting Change of Direction For Finland’s #1 Rocking Guitarist.
As regular readers will know, I don’t read Press Releases other reviews before listening to an album; for fear of being prejudiced; but I weakened a couple of weeks ago when my friend Iain at bluesenthused.com reviewed this disc. He liked it but scared me by using the most fearsome four letter word that I can think of ….. P.R.O.G! Two weeks later I can hear where he’s coming from (and Erja too); as this album is a distinct progression from her last album; but to my dodgy ears; I’m hearing a woman veering into the uncharted waters of Jazz Rock; none more so than opening track Snake in the Grass where our favourite Finnish Blues Rock star uses her voice as a virtual weapon; twisting and turning her vowels, while using her range to mystify and excite at the same time. While the seamless slide guitar style that she is famous for has virtually disappeared, save for a cameo appearance via Sonny Landreth on Wedding Day; there’s still more than enough gutsy guitar on Cherry Overdrive and the brooding Hard as Stone to satisfy every air-guitarist out there; and it’s no surprise that Erja’s words and vocals are just as impressive as her meanderings on her electric guitar. It’s probably the way that Erja uses her voice that points me towards that Jazz-Rock sensibility; but the way Another World and Miracle are constructed points us in that direction too…… but with the emphasis on the Rock end of this much maligned spectrum. To a greater or lesser degree, the best is kept for last with the album closing with two absolute belters; Torn is an epic Rock Ballad with something in her fluid guitar solos that reminds me of Gary Moore at his peak; and then there is the finale, the slow and disconsolate Break My Heart Gently; a beautifully sorrowful tearjerker of the finest hue, and therefore the Official RMHQ Favourite Song on this fascinating album. While I’m not hearing as much ‘Blues’ as I would have expected; and mercifully no ‘Prog’, but that’s no particular hardship as these songs all stand up for themselves; and I’m really excited at this new direction Erja Lyytinen is cruising off into, without needing to look over her shoulder.
Everything You’d Hope For if You Could Bottle the Tulsa Breeze.
Here’s an interesting question …….. has JJ Cale ever wrote a bad song? Obviously some are better than others; but a bad one? One that makes you either roll your eyes or…… press ‘skip’ on the CD player? I can’t think of one; which brings us to this wonderful release of never before released tracks; which begs another question …… why have we not heard them before? Selecting an opening track must have been a nightmare; but I can’t think of anything here that’s any more ‘quintessential Cale’ as Lights Down Low which captures the warmth in the man’s voice and words that many have tried to copy; but always failed. I’ve played STAY AROUND in fits and starts over the last couple of weeks; but used as the soundtrack to a delightful drive around the Durham Dales on Easter Monday in the Spring Sunshine; and with Oh My Oh My, Long About Sundown and the title track Stay Around wafting from the speakers I could just as easily have been in the Oklahoma foothills. Because this is JJ Cale there is a delightful flow to the way the songs are laid out here, with nothing getting noisier than 4 on the dial nor lower than 3; while each is individual in it’s very own rite. As a bit of a fan; there are joyous discoveries around every corner, not least My Baby Blues, the only song not written by JJ but by his wife Christine; and the highlight is some sublime slide guitar that brings out the joy in her lyrics like pepper does to a strawberry. As this is an album to wallow in, so selecting a single song as a Favourite is like choosing a favourite child……. but a couple do stand out and could easily have been Classics had they been released in JJ’s lifetime; Stay Around and Girl of Mine both sweep along like a summer breeze, album closer Don’t Call Me Joe is perfect for late night radio and while it didn’t fit into my car journey; Winter Snow will surely find its way onto many other songwriter’s albums before this year is out. Then there is Tell You About Her which really is the ‘great lost JJ Cale song’ ……. why was this left off whatever album it was recorded for? I’m stumped if I can give you an answer. I’m normally nervous of posthumous releases of material like this; but knowing the way his family and Christine in particular cherish his memory, I knew these songs were being released for ‘people to hear’ and not just as a ‘cash in;’ which is the case with far too many other artistes.
Nils Lofgren Blue With Lou Cattle Track Road Records
Classic Rock Meets Punk in an Abandoned Diner.
Way back when, legendary producer Bob Ezrin had the inspired/crazy idea to suggest that Nils Lofgren and Lou Reed; both pretty much at the height of their fame should write some songs together; even though they were from polar opposites of the then Pop Music spectrum. The collaboration netted 13 songs (all written by Reed in a non-stop 3 day orgy of writing); eight of which appeared on the pairs albums over the next few years. The other five lay hidden in Lofgren’s archives until 2017 when the kernel of an idea to re-visit them came during a tour of Australia. The first of this quintet, Attitude City opens this album like a bolt from the blue. You can only imagine the fire that was burning in Reed’s belly when he wrote these lyrics; that are now spewed out by an aging Lofgren; but that juxtaposition actually works a lot better than it should; and it’s a similar sensation with the other songs from this odd collaboration. I love the fluid guitar that breathes passionate life into Give; a song about ‘Charity’ written nearly half a century ago by an experimental Punk Rocker but very much a signature tune for where we are and what we should be doing for our fellow man in 2019. Lofgren’s arrangement on Talk Thru The Tears is equal parts sympathetic and ‘honourable’ (?) on Reed’s romantic nod in the direction of the classic ballad Smile. Nils sounds like he’s singing about himself while sliding in some short and stunning guitar solos while the band and backing singers provide a claustrophobic fog behind him. Bizarrely (for me) City Lights has a feint Reggae lilt to it as Reed uses Charlie Chaplin, star of the film of the same name as a metaphor for life on and in the busy and dark streets of an unnamed American city. The song itself; especially with Branford Marsalis’ wonderful saxophone is the epitome of 80’s AOR yet sounds as fresh as a daisy today. Don’t Let Your Guard Down; is arguably the tightest and toughest song from the odd couple; with some razor sharp lyrics welded to a stinging back beat and melody. At this stage I kind of think I’d have liked Lofgren to have revisited the other songs from Lou Reed that they had already released to bring them full circle; as it where; but the rest of this album is made up of some new, freshly penned songs of his own. The most pertinent of these is Dear Heartbreaker a Rocky-lite love song to and about Nils’ friend Tom Petty, and performed in the style of the great man; with Lofgren’s grizzled voice absolutely perfect for such a hymnal. It appears that going back to the old songs has reignited Nils’ own muse as there are a couple of belters here from his own pen; as Pretty Soon and Rock or Not are both perfect for Daytime Rock Radio and the title track Blue For Lou; even without the back story is one helluva Modern Rock song that deserves a wide audience. There’s also a rather charming new ballad here too, Too Blue to Play that he dedicates to his wife Amy and it certainly feels like it comes from deep withing the writers soul the way her purrs; “Took our innocence and comfort Strolled it joyfully ’round town You showed me off a bit too much Had to hurt a few boys till word got around.” I do like a love song, it has to be said. The last of the five collaborations Cut Him Up is actually my Favourite Song as it has all the hallmarks of to Lofgren’s solo glory days in the late 70’s and Reed’s wise words combine the spite of Punk and the guile of Rock just perfectly. With only five of the original thirteen songs here the ‘Sales Pitch’ from the record label is a tad misleading; but if you put that behind us BLUE WITH LOU is a much better album than anyone could ever have hoped to hear from Mr Nils Lofgren after all these years.
A Cult Punk Rock Outlaw Cowboy Album for a Lost Generation.
In the 12 years I’ve been reviewing their music I think there’s only ever been two Bloodshot albums I’ve chosen not to review as I couldn’t get my head around what the act were producing (no names no number!) as this label have a roster of acts that are either straight forward ‘fantastic’ or at the very least ‘interesting’. The Yawpers go to the top of both piles at RMHQ. I had to do a double take halfway through opening track Child of Mercy. What is this witchcraft? Our favourite Punk Rock Outlaw Cowboys sound like they’ve been listening to Primal Scream while watching the History Channel…… but now two weeks later; it’s the perfect introduction to this new chapter in the band’s life. Dancing on my Knees then comes straight at you outta the traps with no subtlety whatsoever…… and if you survive this intense Psychobilly without fumbling for the ‘off switch’ you are in for a veritable treat thereafter. “You can’t like everything you review” I often get asked; and it’s true, I don’t; but there are plenty of times I can see what someone else will get from the songs I’m listening to; and rightly or wrongly that’s where The Yawpers fit into my life. If I was 17 and just discovering beer, girls and Rock Music, The Yawpers would more than likely be my favourite ever band; as songs like Reason to Believe (with it’s attack dog guitar ) and Forgiveness Through Pain have the ability to change a young mans life. In their defence The Yawpers do acoustic too; and both At Winters End and Man As Ghost are both really fascinating and well told stories and shows a gentle and articulate side that is usually lost in the glorious cacophony they are rightly lauded for. That Primal Scream ‘feeling’ I described earlier, reappears on the epic title track Human Question and that nearly gave it the title of RMHQ Favourite Track here; but with hindsight and great taste, I’m actually going for ……… the heads down, hip-shaking, footstomper Earn Your Heaven which is the antithesis of just about everything you will hear on a radio anywhere in the Western World in 2019; but that’s radio’s loss……. the People will decide that this song will become a Cult Classic for the Lost Generation. Think Green Day covering MC5 two days after discovering The Doors. Alt. Punk-Prog anyone? With HUMAN QUESTION The Yawpers somehow manages to challenge the listener on many fronts; not least your aural senses; but the end result is always entertaining, compulsive, life affirming and not least memorable in every sense.
Beautifully Articulate Cross-Generational Folk Music.
I don’t know much about Izzy Heltai apart from he comes from Northampton in Massachusetts and has a voice that can best be described as ‘interesting’; but it’s also quite perfect for his spell-binding modern Folk Songs. There are only four songs here; but each one is a perfectly formed parcel of intense loveliness in its very own rite. I regularly say that it’s a case of ‘Right time/right place’ for music to have an effect on you; and as I sit here tired and weary on a sunny Good Friday morning, contemplating life, love and the Universe as it’s my birthday tomorrow; Friday and a one the younger me could never have imagined me reaching Izzy Heltai has been a wonderful companion in the last couple of hours. The first song; and current single Marching Song is a very powerful and deeply personal statement from this young man; whose frazzled voice somehow struggles to soar and hit the high notes….. but manages every time. For a track that has a guitar piano, bass and trumpet (possibly a cornet?) alongside a big voice; there’s lots of space there two for the listener to contemplate on Heltai’s heart rending story of broken love. Then on Stuck in Stone the judicial use of echo gives a sad tale enough pathos to break even the hardest of hearts with consummate ease; and that’s taking nothing away from the singer’s rather muscular love story. I absolutely adore his use of metaphor in the final track Mountain; comparing such a massive land mass to the mistakes he’s made in his relationship; and if you don’t quite get the message…… that cello and trumpet will make you go weak at the knees anyway. Then there’s my Favourite Song by a country mile; Common Sense. To the casual listener a simple Folk Song with a bit of a back story……. but you couldn’t be further from the truth! Listen….. actually listen to Heltai’s compelling words and the way the melody and instruments creatively shadow and shroud his dark story like a velvet cloak. This is the sound of a songwriter ‘finding his true muse’ and the world is a better place for this song being there. In four short songs Izzy Heltai has the capability of crossing the musical generation gap with articulate ease in a way I’ve not heard for many a long year. He very much already has his own distinctive ‘sound’; but one that can and will appeal to fans of acts as diverse as Leonard Cohen, Ed Sheeran, John Prine, Nanci Griffiths and Gretchen Peters too. #Fact.
John Clifton In the Middle of Nowhere Rip Cat Records
If Ever Bada Bing! Needs a House Band, Look No Further.
Baring in mind how much new music I have to get through, I was only playing John Clifton’s NIGHTLIFE album two days before this arrived through the door. Serendipity? While the format is pretty much the same as you’d expect, and indeed hope (this sure ain’t Prog!) there’s an additional sharpness to these songs if my untrained ears don’t deceive me. This may be down to Clifton using his touring band without the aid of guest stars; or maybe he just had a better idea of the sound he wanted to create in the studio….. whatever; it works a treat. The harmonica and guitar duel which kick starts I’m Leaving You Baby only slightly prepares you for the full on R&B assault the rest of the song will have on your aural senses. With that in mind, Clifton and associates go on to sound like they should have been the house band in Bada Bing! The Sopranos drinking club of choice in the way they go on to give us a no holds barred, taking no prisoners, ‘like it or lump it’ set of songs that defy time. Clifton not only has great taste in the music he chooses to cover (Howlin’ Wolf’s Poor Boy and Merle’s Honky Tonk Night Time Man both get the Clifton treatment and come out all shiny and sassy just in the way both were intended); but first and foremost I love the songs from his very own pen the most. The title track In The Middle of Nowhere is something of a Country/Blues infusion with stinging words right from the pits of his heart straight to yours; and on Junkie Woman Blues he wings us back to the Juke-Joint days of olde without skipping a beat; but he can also give a masterclass in harmonica playing on the wonderful Ain’t Spending No More Money; which also showcases Bartek Szopinski’s piano playing too. Choosing a Favourite Song on a John Clifton album is never going to be easy; and I’m torn between the soulfully painful cover of Junior Wells’ So Tired I Could Cry, which was a staple of a band I loved 30+ years ago in my hometown of Newcastle, The Blues Burglars and the other is one of John’s own; the instrumental Cool Spot in Hell which just may have some of the finest chromatic harmonica playing I’ve ever heard at it’s heart, so I’m going for the latter as my #1. Usually bands that are red hot on stage can’t find that spark in the studio; that’s not the case here as John Clifton has created a studio album that will live just as long in the memory of the fans who ever get to see his legendary live shows.