Amelia White & Brett Ryan Stewart 11AM Wirebird Records/Bandcamp
Cutting Edge Country Duets With A Classic Twist or Two.
I’ve been a fan of Amelia White for a few years now; so much so I occasionally play her albums for ‘fun’ and ‘relaxation;’ which may sound odd ……. but with so much new music to review during the week, Sunday’s are precious to us and generally mean delving deep into my/our music collection for something to play; so anything from the last ten years that gets on to the hi fi has to be very special indeed. So when Amelia got in touch recently asking nicely if I’d give a listen to a new project with her friend Brett Ryan Stewart, my Scooby-Senses went into overdrive. As she insisted this is not a normal Amelia White album; but a bunch of duets; so I wasn’t too surprised to hear a rich and smouldering man’s voice on opening track Somebody to Hold; a love song in the mould of Tammy and George if George was substituted by Charlie Rich, methinks. Absolutely gorgeous and swoonsome, with some sublime guitar, deeply emotional viola and violin (from Molly Thomas) and accordion behind the star struck couple ……. just the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from Tim and Faith; but increasingly you’d be disappointed as Music Row’s favourite couple go full on Power-Pop. It’s the same with Like I Do, which follows …….. slow burning and simmering; will their love explode or implode? Only time will tell. The all too short EP close with Boom Boom; NO not the John Lee Hooker Classic; but a crisp and sharp Country sizzler with the couple surrounded by a sympathetic band and numerous finger clicks and handclaps as the two very disparate voices melt together to form a single sound that will tug at your already shredded heartstrings. Which brings me to my Favourite Song here; the dark and gloomy Mr. Sunshine; which is predominantly Stewart on his own pouring his broken heart out over some shimmering guitar and a drum beat that sounds like continuous punches to the jaw; but never strong enough to knock you out ….. just soften you up as Stewart’s world weary and achingly beautiful lyrics take you out when you’re least expecting it. 7 or 8 years ago I had a period when Country Couples were being heralded as ‘the next big thing’ and personally, I was disappointed that apart from My Darling Clementine they all more or less disappeared into the ether after delivering some great debut albums. Which is what I fear will happen here; especially as Amelia White has a new Kim Richey produced solo album coming out later in the year; which is great news ….. but …. but …… I’d love to hear a full album from the couple; possibly with their adaptations of some Country Classic duets ….. why not? Surely the world is finally ready for such a magnificent beast?
Using Everything in the Country Music Arsenal to Woo You Into Total Submission
Scanning through my ‘to do’ list the name jumped out me; and sure enough Stephen Flatt actually is related to Lester Flatt, he of Flatt & Scruggs; and yep ……. he’s actually a long lost Great Nephew; but that matters not a jot here, as he is very much his own ‘man’ without ever really drawing on that legacy, no matter how tenuous. Stephen’s rich and expressive baritone comes at you like a ‘sucker punch’ on opening track Brother. Even the first time you hear this song you will imagine a sepia tinted video with a homestead, a sunset and a beat up old wagon somewhere ‘in shot’; but don’t think that this is Country by Numbers; far, far from it ….. Flatt uses that template exceptionally well; but isn’t afraid to ‘colour outside the lines’ when necessary. I’m smiling as I type; because to me, this is Good Ole Country Music, the type you want to hear on the car stereo or on a Thursday night at a Roadhouse on the edge of town; before the big hitters come in on the weekend ….. it sure ain’t what you will hear or see on the Awards Programmes. The pedal-steel cuts through many songs like metaphor for a knife carving out a still beating broken heart; none more so than when Flatt’s voice sounds like it’s on the edge of breaking during Logan Creek; not your ordinary heartbreaker; but one with a delicious twist that slowly unfurls. Oddly enough, there is a good ole Bluegrass toe-tapper here; White County Shine; and it’s really rather bodacious and I imagine it will come late in the set when played live; as it’s a sure fire floor filler. The more I’ve played this album; the more I feel that Stephen Flatt sounds and writes a bit like a young Vince Gill; while no doppelganger the Master’s fans are going to love One More Time (based on the moonshine theme, updated to reflect running meth when “the boy’s got a batch cooked” to finance a better life.), Gone Away and the rather swoonsome Hold You Tonight; so if you know a Gill fan …… give them a nudge in this direction. Like so many of his generation, Stephen has a musical background outside the Country Music world; but he’s finally been drawn into the fold; and to some extent it takes a life of experiences to be able to write a song like Talking Like The Devil and deliver it in a way that makes the listener think …… “We have all been there!!!! “ That song is probably the most commercial here; but I’ve decided to go in a different direction for my actual Favourite Track; it although the judicious use of fiddle and mandolin means El Camino (1965) usually means that the its a Bluegrass tune; which is probably where it started ….. but it builds and builds until it’s nothing short of being a Honky-Tonking, Country and Western song that uses every thing in the arsenal to dance you into total submission ….. and I absolutely love it. To some greater level; this is a solo album where Stephen Flatt is finding his feet; but none the less it’s a cracker and well worth checking out.
West of Texas Heartache, Hangovers & Honky Tonks Pleasant Valley Ranch Records
Melodic Hardcore Country Music From a Connoisseur of the Genre
An album delayed in the making by around 12 years ; it’s been a long wait but very much worth it for fans of traditional country music. The attention to detail throughout is sublime, right from the staged narrative photo on the cover, in the tradition of Country album covers from the time periods that these Classic sounds emanate to the thematic and musical diversity and unity heard on every track. The title is almost a checklist of what to expect – Heartache? It’s here – “Foolin’” “This fool” “Sign of a broken heart” are just three that tick that particular box. “Hangovers”? “My whiskey life” “Whatcha drinkin?’” – yep, all there – and Honky Tonks – well, if that’s not obvious, you’re not paying attention. Stylistically, this is no punches pulled, straight-ahead hardcore danceable Country Music. None of that radio pop-rock guff – there’s pedal steel and Twang throughout; there’s even some Cajun rhythmic flavour – although not a Cajun accordion (pedantic Cajun accordion playing reviewer – sorry) on “Bayou Boy” and there’s a flavour of Merle Haggard too; on “Dead End Job Blues” and Western Swing on the aforementioned “Fixin’ to Love You”. There’s low-down Twang on “You’re Still the One I Dream Of” which strays into early Mavericks territory and there’s a Dale Watson delivery and feel about “12 Steps to Drinkin.’” Zinn’s vocals are suitably a melodious baritone and at times have something of the Ray Benson about them. Despite all these influences, this album makes a wonderfully cohesive collection of lively and intelligent Country – and the occasional cussing gives it that extra Honky Tonk grit. Listening to this album for the first time, the sound took me back to listening to Heybale on a Sunday night at the Continental Club in Austin and in many ways, West of Texas (despite – as their name suggests – being geographically over to the Californian coast) are their spiritual brothers in creating this melodic hardcore country. All we need now is a bar room and someone to get the Lone Star beers in to complete the picture.
A Lesson in Maturity, Grace and Strength on Loretta’s 50th Album
Bearing the same name as her 2002 memoir, 88 year old Loretta Lynn’s latest release shows she is still anxious to prove herself. The material on the album contains little new in the way of composition – retakes of some of her own songs, covers of Classic Country tunes and collaborations with fellow artistes from across the span of her career are the order of the day here. “Still Woman Enough” which opens the album, features backing from Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood – but there’s a strength and sensitive toughness in Lynn’s delivery which is ably assisted by her co-singers. Bookending the album is the similarly titled, but older Lynn song “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and they seek to frame an album that is statement of feminist/feminine strength. The musical backing throughout is no frills straight up classic country – honky tonk piano, fiddle, pedal steel and guitar make up the majority of what’s on offer – and that’s exactly how it should be. Amongst the covers on offer there’s “Keep on The Sunny Side” which is a fairly straight rendition of the Carter family classic; “I Saw the Light” adds a shuffling snare drum ‘train beat’ to the Hank Williams song and “I Don’t Feel at Home Anymore” strips back the often used musical gospel setting of the song, to make it more of a personal sentiment. Highlights for me are in the less predictable choices on the album – Lynn’s duet with Margo Price on Lynn’s 1971 hit “One’s On The Way” is the sound of the old guard and the new guard in full force in vocal and emotional harmony; and singing on issues which makes them thematically inseparable. “Where No-One Stands Alone” attains a kind of world-weary gravity that was present on later Ralph Stanley recordings – there’s a mixture of power and resignation that’s very emotionally charging. “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight” occupies similar ground, – maybe even more affecting – but in waltz time. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is the most radical re-working – it’s now a sparse Southern voiced narration over a banjo soundscape drawn from the perspective of age. Even approaching her nineties, Loretta Lynn is showing that artistic creativity needn’t be diminished. The Loretta Lynn on this album develops a lesson in maturity, grace and strength – knowing her strengths, using them wisely – and adapting a changing (physical and metaphorical) voice to the material can produce beautiful work – and that’s what the Queen of Butcher Hollow is still doing – and long may she continue to do so.
The Benchmark for What Country Rock Should Be About in the Mid-21st Century.
I was 99.9% sure I recognised Sara’s name, so checked through my old reviews ….. nothing; so checked out the hard drive …… nothing ……. then rang Graham Anderson who runs the Jumpin’ Hot Club….. nada; he’d never heard of her either. But by this stage I was already hooked and had the album on heavy rotation in the RMHQ office and my car too. Why the fuss when you listen to so much music; you may well ask. Take a quick listen to opening song Feeling Like an Angel and if this innocent looking young lady from San Diego out of (the other) Washington, doesn’t just break your heart, but win it over like you’re a hormonal teenager again; then you are reading the wrong review. Sara has a distinctive and very individual set of vocals; which somehow sounds like the offspring of Bobbie Gentry and Tom Petty filtered through Ashley McBryde who was singing Kitty Wells songs at a party hosted in Janis Joplin’s honour. The song itself; and the haunting backing from her band are as sure to break your heart as kitten video on YouTube will. As the band kick up some trail dust on the next song Runnin’; the only thing missing is Sarah purring, “Are you ready boys?” as an intro. Twang guitar? Pedal-Steel? A bass that sounds like the strings are covered in rust and a drummer who can shake the foundations when necessary, but keep time like a Swiss watch at others? What’s not to like? Add them to Sara Petite’s introspective, heart-rending and Insurgent Country power-ballads like Missing You Tonight, Floating With the Angels and the hip-hop inspired, tear jerker, Working on a Soul and you have the benchmark for what Country Music should be about in the mid-21st Century. I’d love to think that I will see Sara blasting out The Misfits and/or Crash, Boom Bang at the CMA’s or the Ryman one night; but will be more than happy to be in a jam-packed Cluny in downtown Newcastle one hot and sweaty Friday night; and you will too. I’ve got a horrible feeling that Sara Petite will be deemed ‘too Country’ for Country Radio and the CMA’s etc. so with songs like Medicine Man and the sublime Keep Moving On, in her bag, let’s claim her for Americana, Country Rock and/or Alt. Country because she’s a keeper. When I first played RARE BIRD, the rambunctious and anthemic Scars stood out; not least because of the opening power-chords which are immediatly toned down for Ms Petite to opine; “I’ve got Scars I wear my tattoos on my heart Imprinted little lessons like a tortured work of art.. Scars Some are rough and some are faded.“ Man o’ Man; this is ‘one of those songs’ that you will come back to years and years in the future, be you man, woman or whatever …… but one lonely night, it will come back and haunt you like a dear departed loved one. Trust me here; if this song did come on the car radio; you would have to pull over to the side so you could hear it unencumbered then scramble to find a piece of paper to write her name down on …… then missing your appointment drive straight to a Record Store to buy it. For once I can’t say it any better than a quote on the accompanying Press Release; Sara is as American as apple pie and Harley Davidson. She is gritty, she is wild, she is tender with a soul of a child. I will leave the last words to Sirius Outlaw Country Radio DJ Mojo Nixon ….. “Sara Petite can sing a buzzard off of a slop wagon!”
Rocking Magpie Music Hour Episode 5 January 29th 2021
While not quite up to the heady heights we expect for our reviews; we appear to be collecting new listeners every week with these Podcasts; which hopefully reflect what we do in print. Yet again there’s an exciting mix of music IMHO mixing brand new singles with album tracks and a couple of Classic Oldies thrown in for good measure.
Catherine Britt Home Truths Beverley Hillbilly Records
Heartbreakers, Tearjerkers and Plenty of Good Ole Fashioned Deluxe Country.
The first night I listened to this album I skimmed through the accompanying Press Release and when I saw ‘first release’ obviously presumed that this was a debut album; and was mightily impressed by every aspect; from songs through melody, and of course Catherine’s magnificently expressive voice. Then two days later I read it more closely ….. DOH! Without going into too much detail; she released her first record in 1999 aged 14 in her native Newcastle; Australia and was eventually ‘discovered’ by Elton John three years later, which necesitated a move across the world to Nashville at 17 as she was given a contract with RCA when they were in their pomp. Subsequently she has won more Awards than Manchester United and played the Opry, while releasing a total of 7 previous albums before this little beauty on her own label. The music! Tell me about the music! Okay…. okay! With nothing to compare or contrast with, opening track I Am a Country Song is the type of Old School Classic Country that ‘they’ say isn’t made any more; but ‘they’ don’t look hard enough, do they? It’s everything; and more you’d expect from a Classy song of that title; a tearjerker, a look back and best of all it’s a good ole Country Love Song; and does music get any better than that? What follows is more or less in that vein; with even more tearjerkers with Catherine squeezing every ounce of pathos out of Hard To Love, the divine Mother and of course the punchy title track itself; Home Truths which will be when the mobile phones get lit up when she’s in concert; and best of all it all sounds like they are done with raw honesty. There was a time when I might have sneered at the likes of Country Fan; a duet with Lee Kernaghan and Fav’rit Song; but the older I get and the more I understand …… I bloody love both and if ever I get see Catherine ‘live’ I will be hollerin’ along with the rest of them. I like to think that after all these years I can put myself into the ‘target demographic’ when I listen to new albums; and today that’s not been easy when you have songs aimed at Young Mothers …… Gonna Be a Mumma , with it’s opening gambit: “Well I cook and I clean Put on the washing machine Make a coffee, drink it cold Hang the whites; they’re dorks to fold Put the dog in the yard Will today be just as hard as yesterday? Hey! Hey!” That sure ain’t aimed at me; but I can imagine my daughter in laws (and wife) thinking ‘someone gets me at last!’ More than just about any other genre Classic Country mines emotional gold better than any other; and CatherineBritt sure can build the tension better than most on the duet with Jim Lauderdale; Hard to Love, Original Sin and the world weary wisdom of New Dawn too; which sit side by side and are sure fire Country Heartbreakers in the Loretta and Reba mould and more recently by Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert; but Hell; Catherine Birt can match them all tear for tear. In one way or another everything here will be a ‘crowd pleaser’ in one way or another; but the self-depreciating biographical Me is an absolute highlight and delight too ……. perfect for Country Radio everywhere btw. One of my Favourite Tracks Make a Diamond reads like it’s a similar story; but it’s actually a whole lot darker and will appeal to many of us who have lived similar paths; albeit not as Country Music Stars. The other; and most likely my Favourite Song here is the finale; Long Way Round, yet another Country Heartbreaker, but one that somehow caught me unawares one evening and made me repeat it three or four times; which I’m sure will happen in many homes where this album will eventually reside. A cursory look at Catherine Britt’s biography shows you that for every ‘up’ in her life she’s had her fair share of ‘downs’ too; and she’s a fighter to come out the other side smiling; which all helps make her the Real Deal when writing and singing; which is something of a rarity around these parts.
Well; it all seems to be going quite well with our Music Hour and it’s proving to be a bit of a success! As you will see this week’s episode is another groovy mix of Old New, Borrowed and Bluesy Americana and Roots Music. There are some brand new tracks, a couple from albums due out and some oldies too …… but; for me, most importantly we have our first Gateway Song from one of our favourite musicians; Stephen Fearing. For the foreseeable future we will be showing you the list of songs on the show (would you prefer it if we left it ‘as live’ and more exciting?) but I’m not telling you which song and album ‘changed’ Stephen’s musical leanings ….. you will have to listen … and learn.
Last Dance of The Night Country Heartbreakers And More.
While the band’s name Araluen pr: Ar-A-Loo-En may have made me think they were a bunch of lank haired Folkies; as soon as I knew this was a vehicle for Australian guitarist/songwriter Paul Lush, I knew that at least I was going to be interested in the contents herein. Paul Lush? He was a session player extraordinaire until he linked up with, first Alan Tyler of The Rockingbirds then one of our favourite bands of all time; Danny and The Champions of the World. Any reservations I had disappeared within the first 30 seconds of Into The Arms of Another; initially by the sound of Henry Senior’s wailing pedal steel geetar; but when Angela Gannon’s Dusty Springfieldesque voice sashayed out of the office speakers my knees actually went all wobbly. Even if this song was a one of a kind 45RPM single, it would be something you would cherish for a lifetime; more so if you were recently heartbroken (remember those nights in your lonely bedroom?) ….. but; it’s not even in the best 5 songs here …… it just gets better and better and better. Lush’s songwriting is a contemporary take on Classic Country and I’m not a million miles away when I mentioned Dusty; this is a bit like Dusty in Nashville without any over powering strings. Songs like Things I Wanted to Say To You, Killing Time and Never in The Moment are so tightly packaged, you can sense the heartbreak in every note and syllable that comes out of your speakers. Paul somehow manages to tap into genuine Country Heartbreak like so few have managed in the last twenty plus years; listening to Angela literally pouring her heart out on The Only Hearts Alive Tonight and Nice Idea At The Time you will conjure up images of Bobbie Gentry or Sandy Posey singing the words of Faron Young or …… dare I say it …. Willie Nelson in his early days. I dare you to sit on your lonesome one Saturday night and listen to It Was Real To Me and not find a salty tear fighting to get out of your eye …… try it, I dare you (even if you are in a solid relationship.) The band Paul Lush has assembled to support Angela Gannon’s vocals are truly exceptional; never flashy or boringly solid; they compliment her golden voice as much as they lift the songwriters words and arrangements into very lofty heights indeed. There’s even a rambunctious instrumental Oh Yeah! that gives the band a few minutes in the spotlight on a toe-tapper that throws The Shadows, Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins and Booker T Jones into a musical blender and come out the other side like a Country cherry-bomb. Wow; selecting a Favourite Song hasn’t been easy at all; mostly because every single song stand up and apart on its own measure; but a couple really have impressed me from Day #1. The opening song Into The Arms of Another was a shoe-in, of course; but the swoonsome And There It Is is the type of ‘last song of the night’ that we all love; but never hear any more. Which pretty much only leaves The Girl Will Do; swirling organ, searing pedal-steel, industrial strength bass/drums combo and Paul Lush’s intricate guitar flourishes all serving Angela Gannon very, very well as she shows a will of steel that only a woman can. Obviously, it’s fair to say I’ve fallen in love with this album; but so has Mrs. Magpie ……. which shows you the crossover appeal it has and will have; appealing to not just snobs like me but music lovers like my wife too.
Cow-Punk as Spiky As Ever But Now With Added Sparkles.
The first thing this album should make you think is; “Why the Hell does a legend like Jason Ringenberg have to self-release albums?” Seriously; this guy was, and still is a Country Music trendsetter and game-changer; yet he no longer has a record contract. Shame on you Music Row …… and beyond! That said; ‘independence’ gives Jason total control over what he wants to write about and when he wants to release the finished article; but still ……. this is ‘the’ Jason Ringenberg we’re talking about. The opening bars to Before Love and War should be enough to settle any nerves before Ringenberg’s instantly recognisable voice comes in to give us a sharp observational tale about what is going on around us; with a really punchy and tight band supporting him like girders made from Americana Steel. Jason has never shied away from political and socially sensitive topics over the years; and on Track #2 The Freedom Rides Weren’t Free is as heartfelt as it is a history lesson, which certainly appears to need re-telling in 2021; as Jason virtually spits out the rhetoric. Another topic that regularly finds its way onto his albums is the fate of Native Americans; and here on Once I Rode With Crazy Horse, he re-imagines what it would have been like to be a close friend of Crazy Horse as the band crank up the atmosphere to 11 and back. Although certainly not a Jason and the Scorchers album; RHINESTONED still manages to sound like a ‘band effort’ as the singer surrounds himself with some very committed and sensitive players; who really excell throughout; but most noticeably on the delightful You Win Again and Jason’s dabble into Celtic-Folk territory, The Storms Are On The Ocean, when he is joined by daughters Addie and Camille on harmonies. When I received my copy two days before Christmas I had to look twice when I saw a song called Time Warp; but breathed a sigh of relief when I played it and found it wasn’t that ‘twee party song’ that drunk women seem to love; but instead sounds like Jason channeling the ghosts of George Bradfute’s studio, which was the home basement of 1950s country crooner Jim Reeves. There’s a real left-of centre oddity tucked away in the middle, with Mr. Ringenberg going all Gospel on Christ The Lord Has Risen Today; and while I probably haven’t listened to it enough to see if there’s anything hidden in the lyrics; but while the band give it big licks and get louder and ‘ornier as it progresses and progresses ……. it actually sounds like a straight as a dye Modern Day Hymn that Charles Wesley would be proud of …… if he had been a Rock and Roller! The album builds and builds like a good gig should and closes with Jason at his snarling and whirling best on Keep That Promise and the the rather wonderful finale, Window Town. Which all neatly brings me, one way or another to the two songs I’m torn between as my Favourite Track on an album full of red raw Country Music. There’s a theme that runs through both, and I wonder if you can guess what it is? Stoned on Rhinestones is a real toe-tapper as Jason recalls the day he first heard Hank and a lifelong addiction to ‘Real Country Music’ began and continues today; which could and should lead into the magnificently pissy Nashville Without Rhinestones, which ploughs a furrow that many, including my own favourite Dale Watson, where Jason pines the musical changes that are prevalent in today’s Nashville where the singers are more likely to be wearing Camouflage and singing about Guns rather than the Rhinestones and songs about Cadillacs, hogs and picking cotton while a guitarist makes his Telecaster gently weep. Just like Jason I don’t ‘live in the past’, but there’s still plenty to cherish and explore from the Country history books to explore without throwing the baby out with the bathwater; so I’m going for the latter. It’s a Jason Ringenberg album; so I’m always going to recommend it to you; but Hell ………. 2021 is going to need as many Rhinestones as it can get …….. so get RHINESTONED!