Julie Christensen 11 FROM KEVIN (SONGS OF KEVIN GORDON)

Julie Christensen
11 From Kevin (Songs of Kevin Gordon)
Wirebird Records

A Great Singer and a Fine Songwriter Come Together to Create Americana At Its Finest

While this is Julie Christen’s 5th solo outing and she leads and has led a couple of bands; sadly I’d not heard of her previously; but the accompanying bio certainly piqued my interest, not least because she was a backing singer for Leonard Cohen for 7 years and; more importantly to me her band, Stone Cupid includes the legendary Sergio Webb and Chris Tench on geetars!
Then; of course her choice of songwriter to pay homage to; Kevin Gordon made the album a bit of a ‘must listen’ too.
Opener, Find My Way proves that my Spidey-Senses are still in working order, as Julie has an intriguingly distinctive voice; sitting somewhere between Lucinda and a rocking Tift Merritt; which is a mighty good thing here at RMHQ. The song is as tightly wrapped as a box of fireworks; constantly threatening to break out and spoil the show; but always letting the singer steal the show.
The lights drop down for the second song, Crowville a slow haunting song which unravels a touch every time you play it.
The choice of Kevin Gordon’s songs to cover is a fascinating one; as he’s not as famous as he should be; but a cursory look at your record collection will find his name attached to several of your favourite songs; some of which appear here.
It’s always difficult, if not impossible to describe Americana Music to friends and family; but in future I may just direct them to this album; as the way Julie welds Folk and Country together on Fire at The End of the World, the epic Gatling Gun and especially the delightful Rest Your Head is truly outstanding.
The way Julie interprets Gordon’s words, and makes them sound so personal to her on Following a Sign and Hearts Not In It/Down to the Well making them sound that they surely must have been written by the woman pouring her heart out; but hey ….. she didn’t and he did …. but it’s a musical marriage made in Heaven.
As is the case with 99.9% of Americana/Roots albums, there aren’t any obvious singles here ….. but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any stand out songs ….. far, far from it!
The mean and moody Joey and Clara is a prime example as if you did hear it in the radio you would be straight onto the interweb to buy it as soon as you had wiped the final tear from your eyes.
This is immediately followed by the intense and immense Gloryland, which owes more to Prairie Wind era Neil than it does to Bruce’s song of the same name; although I can imagine him joining her on stage one night to accompany her on backing vocals ….. and the double guitars will send a shiver down your back.
Then for my actual Favourite Track, Julie drops a Blues chord or two into the Americana mix on the utterly moving and melancholy Jimmy Reed is The King of Rock & Roll, which had me holding my breath the first time I played it ….. and that’s not a good thing when you’re driving a car!
I feel a bit guilty saying that Julie Christensen has been a ‘discovery’ to me …. and hopefully you too; as she’s been in and around the scene for ‘many moons’ … but she has been a discovery and a great one too; plus listening to Kevin Gordon’s fine songs in this format has been an absolute blast – congratulations to everyone concerned.

Released 21st January 2022
https://stonecupid.com/

Kevin Gordon http://kg.kevingordon.net/

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Matt McGinn TIME WELL SPENT

Matt McGinn
Time Well Spent
Self Release/Bandcamp

The Title Says It All

I don’t know why, but I have a delectably soft spot for music from Northern Ireland; as there’s always something very sensitive and usually inspirational about it; regardless of the genre.
Matt McGinn is a case in point; a friend of a friend who got in touch a few years ago and is now one of my favourite singer-songwriters whos’ songs have evolved over the years, while tackling some very difficult issues, yet making every song eminently listenable regardless of subject matter.
If only he came from New York or Chicago he’d be a Star.
Enough! Let’s talk about his new album.
Like everyone else these days TIME WELL SPENT is a pandemic/lockdown album. The songs themselves were written pre-Covid; but Matt has used the forced home imprisonment to tweek and develop the songs; then using modern technology to bring in friends and fellow musicians to flesh out various missives in a way he’s not necessarily known for.
The first song out of the bag is the winsome Annie (Many Moons Ago); a break up song of sorts as the man looks back on a lover that left him with an incurably broken heart. Possibly biographical and probably from his imagination; this song is a stunner beyond belief; and as Niamh Dunne’s haunting fiddle plays in the background, contains the breathtakingly raw lines:
I had to pass our corner four times a day
I’ve moved back in with folks now
and Mother she says ‘hey’
I thought I heard her say
I hope she slowly burns in Hell!

I’m not going to spoil the twist in the last verse btw!
The title track Time Well Spent, a duet with Aoife Scott follows; takes the listener on a delightfully dark stroll through the shadows of their love affair of a different hue; and contains some stunning viola from Eliza Carthy MBE.
Then; just as you are sitting comfortably the band kicks in …… with a vengeance on Something; which IMHO owes a nod and a wink to Energy Orchard; as does Hands Off My Summer, and I keep my fingers crossed that I will one day witness McGinn and Friends perform these two songs especially, in this exact guise.
Presumably the time spent in solitary confinement got the writer to thinking about people and events in his past; which I guess where the extraordinary Me & Tommy comes from; as well as Kinnahalla too; which is probably the nearest to a Traditional Irish Folk Song here.
There are certainly emotional highs and lows here; which is what I’ve come to expect from Matt McGinn; and that brings me to what has become my Favourite Song on a rather excellent LP; Woman.
The opening verse; sung in McGinn’s slow brogue, opens a door to something of a challenging song ….. but one that should and will touch the hearts of everyone who hears it:
It’s always the woman
to have and to hold;
Better than riches
Rarer than gold
.”
For some reason; probably because he’s from just down the road I found myself imagining Van Morrison singing this song; although I doubt he can inhabit the the story in quite the same way that Matt does; and btw I love the crazy sub-psychedelic guitar/violin outro to fade.
Then the album comes to a close with the something of a pub sing-along and possibly Sgt. Pepper inspired (?) Slide Out of View; which could easily find itself being included in some kind of film or TV drama if I’m not mistaken.
There’s an obvious charm to this album; just as you’d expect; but peel away the veneer and these are a collection of back to the bone observations using the light and shade of one man’s life that the majority of us can still relate to in one way or another.

Released January 1st 2022
http://mattmcginnmusic.com/

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Blood Red Shoes GHOSTS ON TAPE

Blood Red Shoes
Ghosts On Tape
Velveteen Records

Still Crazy After All These Years!

I feel that I should start this review with an admission that I have been a fan of Blood Red Shoes since they issued Box Of Secrets as far back as 2008; and I’ve seen then on several occasions over the years.
Not that I would dream of allowing this to affect my judgement on their new release!
It’s interesting that one half of BRS has just released her first solo album and Laura May Carter has produced an album that is quite different to the BRS offerings over the years, so I was intrigued to hear if there were any changes to the duo’s raison d’etre since their last release, the 2018 Get Tragic.
Laura-May and Steve Ansell have got back together again after living on either sides of the Atlantic and Ghosts On Tape was written in LA, but wasn’t recorded until they were both back in the UK.
The pandemic has obviously affected the duo as much as it has the rest of the music industry but I’m sure they are pleased with the outcome of their endeavours.
A gentle piano solo leads us into the opener ‘Comply’ and dark and sombre vocals from Steve – a hint that this may well be a mood changer from Get Tragic.
The single from the new album, ‘Morbid Fascination’ follows and here, Laura-May delivers a vocal a la Depeche Mode with a driving almost psychedelic feel to match the view that this is clearly a major change from any of their early albums.
A classic Blood Red Shoes track and probably the highlight of the set.
Laura-May takes the lead again on track 3, ‘Murder Me’ with the dark mood maintained in the title, , but the overall effect is another very catchy well written and delivered song but there is one minor point I would like to make and that is that I wish they would sing as a duo more often instead of them switching to individual solos on separate tracks.
‘Give Up’ is delivered by Steve in his ‘give it everything’ fashion as he rattles through in a sort of Jack White style as the backing builds up from the midpoint to a full on crescendo. The sort of BRS song that we are well used to now.
‘Sucker’ gives Laura-May the chance to demonstrate her ability to effortlessly deliver a rock track in a style where she is so comfortable with an infectious backing. She is to the fore again on ‘Begging’ but on a much softer sound – totally different approach on the two tracks to make the listener appreciate her dexterity in delivery.
I suppose the plan to get a ‘darker/more somber’ feel does prove beneficial but not to the extent that it would put off fans of the duo for the last ten years or so. Blood Red Shoes gigs are generally noisy and with a touch of mayhem and the forthcoming tour will no doubt be well supported as fans get their first chance to see them for a few years.
The final track, Four Two Seven, is (to me) similar to some XX tracks and their electro touch but Steve is very much at ease on a track that would be a perfect choice to close a live set – bouncy, a steady build up and the band at their best.
The sort of track I wouldn’t have expected on their earlier albums from them and definitely a deliberate change after the Get Tragic album.
The band admit this is deliberately a release with a much darker feel than their previous offerings; and it certainly worked for me BUT it’s fair to say that I have listened to the album three times now with each hearing I have picked up on minor aspects I had missed out previously.
Did I enjoy it?
Absolutely and despite the changes in emphasis I’m pretty sure most fans will concur.
Different?
Absolutely but it will go down well on the imminent tour.
Unfortunately, I have just seen their Press statement to regrettably cancel/suspend the forthcoming tour due to continuing concerns over Covid etc. 
The best laid plans!
A major disappointment to both fans and the duo.

Review by the Original Rocking Magpie ….. Bill Redhead.
Released January 14th 2022
https://www.bloodredshoes.co.uk/

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Police Dog Hogan OVERGROUND

Police Dog Hogan
Overground
Major Tom Records

Filling a Much Needed Gap In British Folk Rock.

Many moons ago (2009ish?) I was with Mrs Magpie in London Town and put out a Tweet asking if there were any gigs on near where we were staying that night.
I received two replies, and for some reason that I can’t recollect; probably the 100 Club venue ( ?) we decided on going to see Police Dog Hogan; and what a blast we had; not least because the support act were The Arlenes who were ably assisted by the legendary BJ Cole on pedal-steel.
I subsequently reviewed their next/first two albums for Maverick Magazine, then as I went solo coincidently the band’s stars aligned and they became ever more famous, meaning I didn’t get to hear the next two albums.
So; it was a mixture of excitement and intrigue when I received this a couple of weeks ago and pressed ‘play’ on the car stereo.
Hmmm; the first time I heard opening track Hold On I was a little confused; as it wasn’t quite what I expected …… which shouldn’t have really been a surprise as I haven’t heard a not of theirs for ten years or more.
Now I’ve played the album a few times it’s really grown on me; and that particular song is now the perfect way to start the show.
It’s Folk Rock for sure; but with what sounds like an added brass section; but is actually only Emily Norris and of course the distinctive sound of James Studholme’s angsty vocals on a song with a great hook and chorus.
While I’ve played this a few times in the house; the car is certainly the best way; short of at a gig, to listen this compelling variety of intimate songs; that invariably are wrapped inside a powerhouse melody; none more so than Might As Well Be, Disappear and Cage of Hope too.
The fascinating Here Comes Crow turns out to be “completely autobiographical”as Studholme explains in the notes; “That crow tormented me for weeks in the first spring lockdown,” he says, “coming just as the first light turned the windows into mirrors. He saw his reflection as an arch enemy, moving round the house window by window attacking himself.” Which may or may not be a metaphor for how many of us feel as the Pandemic shows no sign of leaving us any time soon.
For me though; the best songs on this album are the tender Room in That Bottle, I Need Your Love and the beautiful Kathleen O’Hare too.
Without sounding like either; Police Dog Hogan have the ability to fill the void left in the Modern Folk world left by Bellowhead and The Mumfords; as they too write exceptionally articulate and accessible songs with melodies that will either tap your toes or close your eyes and drift off into another universe altogether; most notably on Funfair on Shepherd’s Bush Green and the finale Let Me Rest My Eyes which will, in fact bring a tear to a glass eye.
This only leaves me to tell you about my Favourite Track here; Barcelona which is a real rumbustious pub-rocker about someone searching for love and not finding it, so thinking that the grass might be greener in said Barcelona. When I first saw the song title I wondered if it was a cover of the Ronnie Lane song Barcelona; and it’s not …… but sounds as if it should be, with Studholme sounding as hopeful as he’s sad in every verse; and a rolling barrelhouse piano supplements the shuffling beat from the band who sound professionally sloppy; just like Ronnie and Slim Chance did way back when; and his band still do today.
I have to be very careful when I review British Folk music as it’s not normally my ‘thing’ but Police Dog Hogan cross any perceived barriers with ease and a batch of great songs that anyone and everyone will enjoy … trust me, I know stuff.

Released January 14th 2022
https://policedoghogan.com/

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Martin Stephenson GOOD WILL FACTORY

Martin Stephenson
Good Will Factory
Barbaraville Records

Sweet and Gentle Americana From Scotia via Geordieland.

I’m not sure which amuses me more; acts that only release an 8 track album every 3 or 4 years; or the likes of Martin Stephenson who can knock out an outstanding and literate album every six months without ever repeating himself!
I’ve genuinely lost track of the amount of albums he’s released in his career; but I did know that whatever direction he was going in here; I was pretty much guaranteed a lovely few hours listening to him and his songs.
To all intents and purposes Martin is found dabbling in down-home Americana here; alongside two precious purveyors of that very genre, Rupert Hughes and Niles Krieger from friends of RMHQ The Kentucky Cow Tippers and the delectable Anna Lavigne too.
The album starts with the divine and winsome Early Morning Drive; which features some delightful shuffling drumming, harrowing fiddle and mandolin playing that complements Martin’s gorgeous love song.
Martin turns the loving relationship on its head on the next track, Baby Come Home and you would swear that this group were standing on a porch overlooking an Appalachian vista rather than a back street in Newcastle were it actually was recorded; and if there’s a finer description in 2022 of how it feels to be in love than this song; then I look forward to hearing it.
As a certified non-musician I’m always fascinated by how songwriters can come up with brand new ideas for songs that describe the emotional psyche without repeating themselves or even stealing ideas from their contempories; and young Mr Stephenson is a verified Master Songsmith in my humble opinion.
You just have to listen once to the charming To The One and/or Sweet Lady to have to sit in awe at the skills that have gone into creating these wonderfully astute love songs.
Baring in mind there are only ever four people on this recording the harmonies on McFie somehow sound like a whole choir is involved.
While the subject matter is diametrically different from the rest of the songs here; New Wave Dave still manages to sound like something you’d hear in an Alabama Honky Tonk on a Saturday night, and not be disappointed.
As a long term fan, I/you will know that the likes of The Most Peculiar Man will have a backstory about a real person in Martin’s life that will evolve as he adds this to his regular concerts; but his skills with words mean that we can all hear it and think he’s singing about someone who has touched our own lives at one time or another.
It’s no longer easy selecting a Favourite Song on a Martin Stephenson album; as each and every track touches you like a Mother’s gentle hand …. but the gentle Western Swing of Haunted Highway, with Twang guitar and creamy harmonies has to be a stand out; as does the raw and punchy I’m Already Gone; which has an MG Stephenson hallmark writ large all over it.
But; there is are two other songs that has really touched my heart and can comfortably sit alongside all those Daintees Classics from our younger days; the first is the brittle and beautiful Blue Child and the other Sweet Lady; which could easily be about a daughter, lover or even Mother depending on how you interpret the words. Hence Sweet Lady is my Favourite Song by an inch at the tape.
How Martin George Stephenson of Brady Square Parish manages to continue turning out songs of this quality on such a regular basis after 40+ years I will never know; perhaps he did a deal with the Devil at the crossroads in Washington Village; or perhaps he’s just damn good at what he does.

Released 17th January 2022
https://daintees.co.uk/home

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Anna Ash SLEEPER

Anna Ash
Sleeper
Black Mesa Records

Very Grown Up Sad Songs

Just before Christmas I was listening to Mike Ritchie’s radio show on Celtic FM when I heard a new song from an act I’d never heard of …. Anna Ash. I immediately did a bit of research and mercifully, just before I contacted her via the website I took a step back and checked my own ITunes .collection; just in case….. guess what?
I already had the album – DOH!
It was then a couple of days before I could play it due to work commitments, and a couple of imminent album reviews.
So it was actually Christmas Eve when we got to play it while preparing vegetables for the following days dinner …… and what a stunning soundtrack it turned out to be.
Opening track Favourite Part sets the tone quite admirably with its haunting melody and backbeat while Anna’s smoky, shimmering and subtle vocals tell a rather twisted and heartbreaking tale.
I can’t think who Ms Ash reminds me of; or perhaps it’s no one in particular – who knows; but her voice is totally captivating; as (it turns out) so is her songwriting.
The next song; Popularity finds Anna slowing things down while using a wheezing organ and trumpet/cornet to supplement the usual instruments on a slow and sultry song that sounds like it’s from the Linda Ronstadt songbook; but it’s not.
Because of her singing style, many if not all of these songs may sound sad; and many are …. but dig deep and you will hear a strong and very insightful woman living her life as best she can; with Sgt. Pepper and Less Regret especially carrying a bright torch.
Back to Anna’s voice and vocal style; which is key to your enjoyment ….. there’s a delightful warble that she uses to great effect during Dress Rehearsal; but she also goes for notes outside the known stratosphere and hits them with both ease and absolute grace; which is quite some feat.
In that respect; and the subject matter too makes this quite a mature and Grown Up album which brings me to my choice of Favourite Song.
At first and probably all of the week leading up to Christmas I was probably most affected by the winsome and beautiful Violently Blue, which just seemed to suit my my mood;

Something about how the air didn’t move‘
Cause I was talking and you were being talked to
You barely said a word just watched us crash and burn
Violently blue just like you
.”

but subsequently I’ve been drawn to both Popularity and Fire Season; both of which are quite poetically and ethereal in construction and have found me going back to them and them alone several times over the last few evenings which must mean something.
Across the whole album Anna’s words and observations are nearly out of this world; none more so than in Fire Season:

Just waiting for a day
When the pain looks around
And says man it’s you or it’s me
That’s gotta get out of here fast
Yeah but it’s a part of my story
A part of my home
It’s the smell of my middle school boyfriend’s cologne
And the sun still sets calmly
People still fall asleep with our bags at the door
.”
If I’m not too mistaken there are elements of Joni Mitchell circa The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Heijra here in the way Anna Ash constructs the story and melody; occasionally daring the listener to stick with her …. or be damned.
This album certainly isn’t for everyone, simply because it’s not Easy Listening’ but if like me the sound of ‘that voice’ captivates you from the start you are in for a real and dreamy treat.

Released January 14th 2022
http://www.annaash.com/

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Johnny Dowd HOMEMADE PIE

Johnny Dowd
Homemade Pie
Mother Jinx Records

A Rocking Drole Start to The New Year

Although he released his first album in 1969 I only discovered the multi-talented Johnny Dowd ten years ago in 2012 on the advise of my friend Shippy; when he played the Jumpin’ Hot Club in Newcastle.
We obviously all have different tastes in music; and Shippy knows mine pretty well and he was right again; as I fell in love with Dowd’s drole presentation, whip smart and articulately clever lyrics that night; and there’s no going back now.
Like every other musician Johnny has been left with time on his hands this last couple of years; but the upside was he got to write, edit and record this album which was released on New Years Day.
The title track Homemade Pie gets the party kick-started like a ten year old Greaves Trials bike; plenty of gusto, coughs, splutters, smoke and enough class to win any race it enters. The swirling keyboards which the song revolves around coupled to the dynamically gorgeous added vocal performance of Kim Sherwood make this metaphorical tale totally extraordinary indeed ……. very much a keeper.
The pace never really ever gets above Waltz mode; or should that be Polka (as I think there are a few nods in the melodies directions as the songs unfold) but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a Rock Album; as the band are dangerously tight , but always allowing Johnny (alongside Kim) to sing his magnificent and glorious tales in all their glory.
Dowd always reminds me of the kind of Uncle who rolls up twice a year and scares the bejesus out of your parents every time he opens his mouth or offers the kids a cigarette; and Johnny actually inserts such a song with Uncle Jimmy, with its fairground organ refrain and opening stanza:
I liked Uncle Jimmy more than Daddy
He’d take me fishing and we would smoke a fatty
!”

Ha hah ha ….. see what I mean?
Yet the ode to his father; Shack is almost Gothic in style and performance; which probably sums up the difference in his feelings towards both men in his life.
If you’ve followed Johnny’s career it’s no real surprise that he takes a left of centre approach on the politically motivated Rise Up, which starts thus:
Rise up proletariat
Throw off your chains
Free your mind/before you go insane
.”
has a chorus of
I love my country
Right or Wrong

and ends with:
F*ck Donald Trump
Donald Trump is a fool.

then bleeds out with some seriously good Crazy Horse style guitar interplay that will scare your granny!

For an album with some serious undertones, Johnny Dowd, as usual has his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek on Ladies and the haunting heartbreakers Silk Scarf and Do Me Do both of which deserve late night radio airplay.
The love songs here are brazenly seedy, which is no real surprise and the duet between Johnny and Kim, Call Me The Wind is truly magnificent and a little bit scary around the edges too.
As a fan; there’s absolutely nothing here to dislike but I’ve fallen love with two songs; and both are rather strange – at first glance Rose is a bit of a punchy Folk song filtered through Dowd’s trademarked drole annunciations; and I’m left wondering if it’s a take on the Titanic love affair between Rose and Jack; perhaps I’m overthinking it; who cares it’s a darkly charming song which will grab you by the heartstrings.
T’other is Rick Ross, which has a swinging fairground melody; but when you listen carefully your jaw will drop:

Cut my heart
Fed it to my dog
My dog’s name?
God
He spoke with a voice
So straight but clear
He asked for a joint
and he asked for …a beer!

It’s so far left of centre it nearly meets itself on the return journey ….. and it’s unlikely that Adele will cover it on her next album!
If you’re a fan you will most likely already have bought this or at least will when you get paid at the end of the month.
If you’re new to the works of Mr Dowd you are in for an absolute treat …. trust me.

Released 1st January 2022
www.johnnydowd.com

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The Odd Birds TREMOLO HEART

The Odd Birds
Tremolo Heart
Self-Release

Charming Country Rock That Could Be From Townes Van Zandt’s Front Porch.

During some pre-Christmas correspondence on Social Media, our friend Bobbo Byrnes asked (subtly) if I’d ever received the latest album by The Odd Birds that he’d produced. I checked all of my files and couldn’t find it; so he hastily re-sent it and it became my soundtrack on the daily trip to work ….. but sadly coincided with my annual two week rest from reviewing; so I’m starting 2022 with a release from 2021!
Since I reviewed theIr previous EP, Californian double act Ron Grigsby and the effervescent Jennifer Moraca appear to have matured their Folk Rock/Americana ‘sound’ ever so slightly and gone for a more Classic Country Rock stance; and wowza does it work!
Initially I was intrigued by the title of opening track Alright Now; as I hoped it would be a cover version of the Free song of the same name; but sadly/thankfully it’s not …. as Ron takes the lead on a charming and slightly dark and jangly soft rocker that simply oozes Californ I-A on a sultry twilight.
The mood drops slightly for track #2 Another One Like You, when Jennifer takes the lead with her pearlescent and quivering voice on a tale of unrequited and lost love that will make you sit silently hoping and praying for a happy ending.
Mrs Magpie and myself often discuss (aregue) about why some acts ‘make it’ while others are destined to languish in the shadows playing half full bars and clubs across the world on a Tuesday and Wednesday night.
The Odd Birds certainly have the talent to move on from the latter course; as they show in Long Long Ride, Lie To Me and the sparkling Drowning Rain, which are all very well constructed songs and produced in such a way that each instrument can be heard in all their glory; but never in a way that overshadows the singers voices.
It’s a brave man who takes on a Classic song like Wichita Lineman; but The Odd Birds pay homage to Glen Campbell in the finest of fashions; and to some extent Grigsby’s voice isn’t a million miles away from Glen’s but the addition of Jennifer Moraca is a stroke of genius, especially when the pair take the chorus into the stratosphere and back again.
As with most Country Music of whatever shade most, if not all of these songs are about relationships, and these particular stories are all easily accessible to the likes of me and you.
Which brings me to the tough choice of selecting a single Favourite Song.
I can easily imagine someone like Judy Collins or Joan Baez melting hearts with a rendition of the tale of a woman sitting at home ‘waiting on her man’ on the starkly beautiful Lie To Me; but I’d also prefer it if it became a hit via The Odd Birds themselves.
When reviewing Country duos of this ilk I always try to avoid lazy comparisons with Gram and Emmylou; then The Odd Birds drop in A Song For You; and that’s the only direction I can point you in as the Californian duo pay homage to Country’s golden couple and come out the other side honours even.
Better At War sounds like the duo had been listening to a lot of Tom Petty and Eric Burdon in the days before entering the studio; as the song certainly has the cutting edge that both had in their prime; and the crazy electric guitar interplay gives this powerful song a rocky edge that I’d like to hear more of in the future.
Then there’s the nod to the Texas Troubadours when the couple sound like they’re singing on Townes Van Zandt’s front porch on the tear inducing and heart breaking Drowning Rain; but there’s one other that has captivated my since that first afternoon in the car; and that’s Jennifer’s Today I Started Loving You Again where she turns and twists the words and melody into something approaching a Southern Gothic heartbreaker without the death knell.
The way Jennifer puts her broken heart and soul into the song I wasn’t even sure it was the same song; but it is and it’s fair to say that sung by a woman, and particularly Jennifer Moraca, it now takes on a whole new meaning and direction.
Especially the way Jennifer sings a couple of songs means the couple haven’t totally strayed away from their Folk roots; but the welcome addition of occasional electric guitar and buoyant melodies means to me that the finished article is genuinely genre-bending as the couple and their enigmatic producer Bobbo Byrnes, add smidgens of Country, Americana and especially Country Rock to the recipe and the end result is very easy on the ear.

Released September 2021
https://theoddbirds.com/

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Robb Johnson MINIMUM WAGES

Robb Johnson
Minimum Wages
Irregular Records

Hard On the Heart But Still Telling It Like It Is

I can only apologise to everyone associated with this album, as I somehow managed to download it then upload it to my phone, then play it over and over again during some very acrimonious Pay Talks at my day job …. while somehow not adding it to the Reviews Spreadsheet!
Better late than ever.
Robb is an old-fashioned singer-songwriter with no real pretentions’ of headlining Glastonbury; being more or less happy to ply his trade in Folk Clubs, Union Halls and the more intimate Festivals on the circuit; and the world is certainly the better for having him and his observations in it.
The opening track Fiddler In The Rain is deceptively lovely; starting as it does with:
Look there’s a child who holds a rainbow
Who walks at her mother’s side
.”
The story unravels quite literally and it’s somehow darkly beautiful as Robb describes the of a Comrade’s funeral cortege led by said Fiddler in the Rain ….. which eventually leads to a recording of Lorraine Tillbrook leading a parade of 6 key workers at that years Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival while the crowds clap.
This is followed by Last Night of The Proms; which should make everyone who actually hears it blood angry.
Being a songwriter of some repute Johnson manages to shoehorn in some very relevant topics post-Brexit into a story revolving around the most British of institutions; The Last Night of the Proms in a way I never thought possible; and the chorus (if you can call it that) should certainly make you ‘think.’
The Tories outlawed Robin Hood
and cut down 100 Acre Wood
then closed down British Industry
so let’s all blame some refugees
.”
It would be nice to think Ed Sheeran or Adele might cover this at some time.
The cool thing about Johnson’s songs are that there’s often a delightful shaft of light somewhere to counteract the darkness of his Political rants (no matter how deserved); which is where My Quiet Flame and My Very Best of Friends come into the equation; and of course the entirely fabulous Great Aunt Gladys, which begins with the twittering of some birds before Robb tells this wonderful woman’s story; starting at the end of WWI and ending many years later after a lifetime fighting for not just her own rights; but the rights of people who didn’t even know they had rights.
When I write my reviews I genuinely wonder if anyone ever actually buys the CD because of my prose; and here I presume Robb’s fans will buy this anyway regardless of a review on t’internet; but I really, really hope at least one person goes crazy and parts with £10 because then they will get to hear the likes of the tragically beautiful Sister Reynardine and the prescient and heartbreaking Hartlepool Asda, Saturday Morning.
Then there’s two other songs that not just made my blood boil; but made me proud that there’s still someone out there carrying on Woody Guthrie’s tradition …… first there’s the powerful ode to the Battle of Orgreave during the minor English Civil War, which was the Miners’ strike in 1984 ….. This Is Your History; but the history that is taught at the tea table across the North; but not in their schools.
This is followed by the contemporary Minimum Wages; which was a song that helped me get through those angry weeks of the pay negotiations; which we won but it was a hollow victory, as the pay rise only gives many of us coppers over said Minimum Wages ….. and Robb Johnson manages to cut through the fog we are all smothered in with his razor sharp observations.
While primarily a solo artist; Robb is joined her by a variety of musician friends who add their talents on Flugelhorn, Fiddle, Accordion, piano and of course an assortment of wonderful harmonies too.
OK these songs are as generally as hard on the heart as they are on the ear; but howway man; 2021 hasn’t been a barrel of laughs; has it?
Somebody had to tell it like it is ….. and with Billy Bragg no longer being that man/person ; we must now look to Robb Johnson.

Released October 2021
https://www.robbjohnson.co.uk/

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LP https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/robb-johnson/minimum-wages
CD https://www.robbjohnson.co.uk/catalogue/




Jeff Tweedy CHELSEA WALLS (Soundtrack)

Original Music by Jeff Tweedy
Chelsea Walls OST
Omnivore Recordings

An Interesting Collection for Tweedy and Wilco Completists and Mix-Tape Compilers.

Ethan Hawke’s directorial movie debut in 2001, “Chelsea Walls” saw Jeff Tweedy and Hawke being connected by a few degrees of separation and Tweedy creating the soundtrack.
The press release explains the context quite succinctly:

Tweedy had collaborated with musician and producer Jim O’Rourke (Sonic Youth, Stereolab) for a special live performance.
As fate would have it, O’Rourke had been working with Glenn Kotche, and O’Rourke introducing Tweedy to Kotche would lay the groundwork for the trio’s work together on the debut album by their band, Loose Fur. Tweedy also asked Kotche to work with him on an improvised soundtrack to the movie he had agreed to score. The relationships moved past Loose Fur and the Chelsea Walls soundtrack.
Wilco was in the process of a creative sea change, the result of which would be the modern-day masterpiece, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Kotche joined Wilco and O’Rourke mixed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

So, with all this taken on board, what does it actually sound like?
I must admit, when I read the word “improvised” I felt a cold shudder, fearing the worst excesses of noodling.
There’s some of that for sure, but the opening two tracks featuring Tweedy and Kotche are based around repetitive melodic riffing and howls of distortion which make them more palatable.
Taken out of the audio-visual context, they do prompt the listener (Confession – I’m not familiar with the film) to create their own scenarios; and for me, they threw up violent city-scapes.

Third track is Wilco performing the “Promising”, with acoustic guitar to the fore in the mix and Tweedy’s instantly recognisable vocal pushed back a little.
It may say “Wilco” on the tin, but it feels more like a solo Tweedy effort.

“Frank’s Dream” is Tom Waits like in title and in performance – brushed snare and hi-hat along with melancholic piano create a soundscape that is indeed somewhat trance-like.
Odd stops and starts obviously tie into the visuals, but jar the audio-only experience.
This is followed by the much more familiar “When The Roses Bloom Again” – in this mix, credited to Billy Bragg and Wilco, there’s very little (if any) of the former and more organ wash and more of a Country feel than I recall from other versions I’ve previously heard.

Jimmy Scott follows with “Jealous Guy” – yes, that “Jealous Guy”.
This is a gorgeous, gritty slow New Orleans jazz take on the Lennon song. If I was making a mixtape from this album, this would definitely make the cut.
This is juxtaposed with “The Wallman”, a Tweedy/Kotche instrumental which sounds like it got lost on drugs somewhere near the Amelie soundtrack, with its stoned musette accordion drone and tinkling xylophone.

“The Lonely 1” credited to Robert Sean Leonard and Steve Zahn features a close mic-ed confessional vocal, one take picked guitar and somewhat painfully discordant intro violin. It’s an interesting take on the Wilco song from a historical perspective, but my familiarity with their version means I’ll be sticking with it. It’s back to more riffing between Tweedy and Kotche on “Hello, Are You There?” – a looped guitar with distorted harmonica over the top is what this one’s about.

It’s back to Robert Sean Leonard again on “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling”, a short, delicate, impromptu off the cuff rendition of the gospel song on guitar and vocal.
“Finale” takes the looped guitar route again – both in the standard and bonus extended version in the release -overlay this with glockenspiel sounding keys and you get the idea.
“End credits” concludes matters in the standard release, unsurprisingly and it’s a more rounded melodic loop with added snare and eastern guitar snatches.
There’s a further bonus track after this – Robert Sean Leonard’s take on “Promising” which almost sounds more like Wilco than Wilco!

All in all, this is a release which is going to appeal for the most part to a select audience -mainly for Tweedy and Wilco completists and mix-tape compilers, who’ll mine this for the nuggets it undoubtedly contains.

Review by Nick Barber
Released January 14th 2022

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http://omnivorerecordings.com/shop/chelsea-walls/