Heath Cullen Springtime in the Heart Five By Nine Recordings Grown Up Songs From the Bottom Left Corner of Rarefied Record Collections
We pride ourselves in trying to get our reviews out as near to the release date as humanly possible but sometimes that’s not possible for a variety of reasons; and in this case the album will be having it’s first birthday on the day this review goes out; but that also coincides with its European release ….. the wacky world of Rock and Roll, huh? After all these years, I’m still a sucker for a great album cover; and this would certainly have caught my attention in a record shop ……. with a wonderful Mono photo of Australian singer-songwriter, Heath Cullen looking like a Mick Jones/Nick Cave/Tom Waits hybrid; and thankfully the music therein certainly matches the artwork. The opening track, Things Are Always Looking Up has a sort of mellow Native American drum beat to it; and when you hear the opening verse: “It’s a miracle this world it grew up right out of the ground we are seven billion monkeys burning it all down” you know you’re not in the presence of a Eurovision winner! This is the dark singer-songwriter territory that inhabits the bottom left hand corner of rarified record collections; the ones that aren’t for the feint hearted. Matched to Joe Henry’s pearlescent production and a group of highly respected session players, Cullen’s worn and weary vocals are the perfect combination for his enigmatic and thoughtful songs from very left of centre field. For someone I’ve never heard of before; Cullen’s songwriting is quite exceptional and at times thought provoking as he prods the listener with a sharp stick on the title track, Springtime in The Heart as well as the bewitching The Last Match which describes a relationship from the ‘last chance saloon’ in a magic and tragic manner. Between them, Cullen and Henry have conjured up a really, really special collection of songs here; somehow mixing Jazz and Country melodies to come out with songs as achingly beautiful as Cowboy Truths (for Sam Shephard) and Home too. For my favourite Song I’ve been drawn to Cullen’s blood raw rendition of T Bone Burnett’s Kill Switch, which leaves us on a haunting note from Day #1, but the more I play the album track #2 The Song Always Remembers has grown and grown on my conscious and sub-conscious. It’s a song of love; but in the mode that we expect from Waits or Cohen; and then some ……. but to some degree that sums up the whole album; so that’s where I’m stopping in my quest …. The Song Always Remembers. Music doesn’t get much better than this.
If you like your music slightly left of centre, dark and brooding, grown up and thought provoking then this is the record for you.
BTW Just when I thought I couldn’t love him any more; on Heath Cullen’s website homepage he explains why you will never find his music on Spotify. God bless you kidda.
USA Release 17th April 2020 Europe Release 20th April 2021
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.
Janet Simpson Safe Distance Cornelius Chapel Records
More Country Pathos and Darkness Than You Could Ever Dream Of
It’s been a mad couple of weeks here at RMHQ making us a tad behind in the review stakes; while I have the other hacks urgently beavering away with forthcoming releases (and there are some doozies!) I’m trying to play catch up with some we’ve over looked. Janet Simpson is a brand new name to me; but as her album is on our recently discovered and absolutely fabulous Cornelius Chapel Records I went straight to it, 6 weeks ago, and fell in love ……. only for other teasers to come along and make me forget Janet’s charms….. until last night. There’s a lot of a lot of things going on in this album; starting with the edgy Country opener Nashville Girls; which could easily find a comfortable home on an Ashley MacBryde or Carlene Carter album; and it’s a similar story with Reno too ……. razor sharp lyrics and a modern twist on Twang; yet in between we get Slip; which is a whole lot introspective and swoonsome straight from the Bobbie Gentry play book. That’s the joy here; Janet Simpson takes the Traditional Country Music ‘sound’ and puts her own indelible (occasionally edgy) stamp on it; making her songs Uber-Contemporary as she sings about and for women in suburbia all over the world. Ain’t Nobody Looking simply oozes the ‘hurt’ only a woman can feel inside and outside a relationship; and it’s played out through a cinematic backdrop too. Double Lines sort of treads a similar path; but stopped me dead in my tracks the third time I heard it ….. phew ……. just when you thought you were safe out there; Janet Simpson has produced an Modern Gothic Melodrama that will send a shiver down your spine. In between she uses her smoky and smouldering voice to sing about love and lovers in a way that will leave you weak at the knees; none more so than Awe and Wonder, the initially twee Black Turns Blue will leave you wide eyed and open mouthed when you first hear it too. Towards the end there’s a song called Silverman Mountain which is pretty much as dark as modern Country Music gets and the limited combination of Janet’s acoustic guitar and a bottle-neck guitar make it quite scary and still pertinent too. There’s even a song here that I never thought I’d hear from a woman’s perspective and certainly not in public; which is why the passionate and powerful I Was Wrong is such a brave song; taking Tom Petty as her guide, Janet Simpson punches way above her weight on this exceptional Alt. Country belter. While she predominantly sings about the darker side of romance; with break-ups and ‘looking back’ on what went wrong, to the fore …… this is a Country Album after all; Janet finds things in the nooks and crannies that makes her stand out from a very packed crowd. Which brings me to the two songs I can’t slide a cigarette paper between in my quest to find a Favourite Song. The finale, Wrecked is Country-Folk Deluxe, but with more pathos than you could ever dream of; and in the accompanying notes Nick Lowe is mentioned as an inspiration and I can hear that in every line of this beautiful tune. I’ll give you a clue as to how good Janet’s articulate songwriting is; here’s the chorus ….
“Maybe I’m wrecked, but I’m not too far gone Maybe the edge is right where I belong I’m not a fighter but I’m a dancer… It might just be …. your grave I’m dancing on.”
The title track Safe Distance is the other and sounds like a supergroup made up of Lucinda, Elizabeth Cook and the Chicks when they came from Dixie singing a lost Tammy Wynette song at the Ryman ….. yep; and that’s not even half the story ….. try it; you’ll like it too. So; Janet Simpson? Bizarrely this is her first album under her own name since her debut in 1997; but in between she’s been a key player in numerous bands of many different persuasions and is the cornerstone in duo Timber too, alongside Will Stewart; but if my opinion is worth anything; I doubt we will wait as many months as we have years for a follow up.
Son of The Velvet Rat Solitary Company Fluff & Gravy Records
Grizzled, Aching and Enigmaticly Poetic Folk Rock
To be perfectly honest I didn’t review The Son of The Velvet Rat’s previous albums DORADO and MONKEY YEARS #2, simply on the basis of the band/duo’s name ……. I regularly do the same if I don’t like an album’s artwork. Childish? Perhaps. But in my defence I think of the albums I receive as if I’m in a record shop flicking through the racks looking for something new and ‘interesting’ ….. okay, I may miss out on some gems, but it’s pretty much held me well over the years; and I doubt anyone has gone bankrupt because I didn’t write about their music. So; as SOTVR haven’t changed their moniker so why am I writing a review? Well; I now have three copies of SOLITARY COMPANY from three very different sources in Europe and the USA …… someone out there wants me to hear them!! So; not knowing what to expect, I pressed ‘play’ …… hmmm; interesting …… opening track Alicia is very, very interesting. The song’s construction errs on the side of Alt. Folk but with complex and fascinating instrumentation; and that’s before Georg Altziebler makes an appearance with a world weary and wheezy vocal; akin to Nick Cave or (check out our recent review) Harry Dean Stanton on a song of lost love and the despair it creates. The titular Solitary Company follows and the mood Geog, wife Heike and a multitude of musicians creates is almost claustrophobic and certainly cinematic; of the Noir persuasion methinks. As we flit in and out of the couple’s songs they get darker and ever more eloquent; touching on Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker territory at times; none more so than the windswept Remember Me and 11 & 9 (which I need to play again through headphones as I’m sure it will unravel like a roll of glittery wool if I do). I’m pleased to say that SOTVR’s exemplary musicianship means that there is actual light and shade as the moods vary quite dramatically as the album progresses; Beautiful Disarray virtually ‘rocks’ in a mid-period Cohen manner; and Ferris Wheel is as near a toe-tapper as they will probably ever get; but still has the capacity to sound a little bit scary around the edges. For my Favourite track I’m unable to choose between the Western tinged Remember Me and Stardust too, with its punchy drumming and rumbling guitars, and the other coming from the polar opposite end of the spectrum; The Waterlily and the Dragonfly which most certainly comes from the Leonard Cohen book of enigmatic Poetic Folk Rock music; and it just has to be sung in a grizzled, aching and dare I say it? Sexy tone like Georg Altziebler makes sound so natural. It now appears that the three people who sent me copies of SOLITARY COMPANY know my musical taste better than I do myself; and this Austrian couple who now live on the edges of Joshua Tree are firm favourites at RMHQ. Thank you all …… and most of all; thank you Georg and Heike.
Ben de la Cour Shadow Land Flour Sack Cape Records
A Satisfying, Yet Disturbing Trip Into the Dark Heart of Small Town America
The first time I came across Ben de la Cour was a couple of years back when he was playing a short unofficial fringe slot at the 5 Spot in East Nashville. The place was dark; last night’s beer smell was drifting through the space and apart from myself, the attendance was pretty sparse for this late afternoon show. Elements of that noirish atmosphere lace this 2020 release (2021 in Europe). “God’s Only Son” opens with a Calexico-flavoured tale of criminal behaviour, with a voice that is soaked in rawness and melody. “High Heels Down the Holler” doesn’t get any brighter – A Tom Waits trashcan rhythm and grinding guitar, evokes a mood of sexual danger and exploitation “If you’re looking for a little fun on Friday night”…but you really wouldn’t want to go there…. “The Last Chance Farm” is Rod Picott like in its melodic delivery and narrative tale of a first day in rehab “The kingdom of salvation Hangs upon a rusty nail Beneath a proud old painting Of a ship with golden sails Let them have their revelations~ in the television light The last chance farm is waiting.” – it’s dark world with only glimmers of light. “In God We Trust.. …All Others Pay Cash” is a Bluesy boogie which isn’t going to find favour amongst those with a neoliberal capitalist worldview, because it’s like “putting candles on dog shit and calling it cake.” The delicate finger-picking of “Amazing Grace (Slight return) is a Guy Clark alike story of the kind of relationship that you know is doomed to fail, yet in itself has a kind of inevitable tragic beauty. Title track “Shadow Land” pulls the trick of cheerful West Coast melody and even darker lyrics such as “It’s an empty world Getting emptier every day”. “Basin Lounge” rocks along in the style of Hayes Carll’s “KMAG YOYO,” with its subterranean homesick lyrical avalanche and boogie piano. Things get darker and harder on “Swan Dive” which opens with an account of watching someone falling to their death from a height in a suicide fall, which in turn becomes a visual metaphor for the effect of emotional let-down “it’s a whole new world when you peek through the cracks”. There’s little let up in the resignation and wry observation of “From Now On” “is it going to be this way from now on?” most definitely, it seems. “Anderson’s Small Ritual” is Prine-like in its picking and couplets and focus on and celebration of eccentricity “Never trust any man If he don’t have no scars” and finds a purpose and celebration in being out beyond the edge because “tomorrow ain’t a promise The life you save might be your own.” Musically, “Harmless Indian Medicine Blues” with its distorted fuzzy vocals is Jim Morrison in intent and is a crazy messed up free-form psychotic nightmare put to words and music – it’s what it’s like to be on the edge and about to fall “I Woke Up Screaming From an Opium Dream” – the final track again is situated on the brink of life/death and salvation and is struggling for purpose in a world where a “man’s a monkey on his dunghill”. “Shadow Land” isn’t an easy listen – and a Google search will help the listener to gauge how much is persona and how much is from within – Ben de la Cour has lived a life that allows him to speak from authority about that which he sings; and hopefully there’s catharsis and healing in this satisfying yet quite disturbing trip into the dark heart of small town America.
My Darling Clementine (with Steve Nieve) COUNTRY DARKNESS Fretstore Records
A Musical Marriage Made in Country Heaven.
In the week Elvis Costello himself releases his own latest album; one of/if not Britain’s finest Alt. Country act’s re-imagines a bunch of his songs as Classic Country songs …….. and after listening to both; I know which I prefer and which is more relevent…. and here’s my thoughts on it. History will undoubtedly show that Elvis Costello is one of our country’s finest ever Songwriters; but when he meanders off into Avant Garde territories he loses me; and presumably you too. SPOILER ALERT! Nothing here is going to be from the Dolly Parton playbook of jolly sing-alongs; this is very much the dark end of a lonely street in North Tree Stump; but hey ….. what else would you expect from this combo. COUNTRY DARKNESS is a culmination of the three EP’S that My Darling Clementine have recently released of their adaptations of a variety of Costello’s songs; and it has come as something of a breath of fresh air in late 2020. As is their won’t Michael and Lou don’t look at the ‘obvious’ for their selection; and with opening song Either Side of The Same Town, take us down a very dark and lonely side street as they reveal that Costello’s words are just perfect for this variation on a them; and Attraction original; Steve Nieve makes his keyboards sound like they are at a cold and damp funeral, for extra pathos, as if it was needed. While an Elvis Costello fan, I don’t recognise several songs here as they are from albums that I’ve hardly ever played; so hearing Michael and Lou wail and plead their way through That Day Is Done, Still Too Soon to Know and the tragic Why Can’t a Man Stand Alone has been like discovering a rare treasure in the attic; and when I went back to the originals they didn’t sound half as good as these re-inventions. Fact. Of the songs I do recognise and love; I’ll Wear it Proudly sounds like George and Tammy singing a Johnny and June song that was written by Willie Nelson; as it just bleeds Country tragedy in this format. While more up-tempo than what goes before; Stranger in The House is still as dark and scary as Elvis Costello’s version and every other version you’ve heard; but somehow My Darling Clementine still manage to add their very own potency to an already simmering gumbo. With Lou Dalgleish taking the lead Indoor Fireworks sounds as intensely passionate as the original; but takes on a whole new life when Michael’s part comes in to create a genuine bonafide 21st Century Country Classic, which runs Laura Cantrell’s ever so lonely version a very close race indeed. As I regularly say; COUNTRY DARKNESS is a good old fashioned Long Player that deserves your full attention and needs to be played from start to finish. That said; in a parallel universe it’s also full to the brim with hit singles; the type that kill the mood when you put them on a jukebox. The nearest to Country Pop and therefore eminently danceable; The Crooked Line revolves around Steve Nieve’s wondrous swinging organ and some militaristic drumming in the background; and serves as a rare shaft of sunshine on a very dark day. Which is also where I’m going for my Favourite Song here, which is a coin toss between Heart Shaped Bruise and the new track Powerless (which didn’t feature on the EP’s). From My Darling Clementine’s very own pens, Powerless certainly squeezes out the pathos of Michael’s words and it also sits in very well on an album of sombre and brooding Country songs; which is a helluva surprise when you hear what goes before it. The other; and the one song here I had to take a deep breath before listening to, is Heart Shaped Bruise. Elvis did this as a duet with Emmylou Harris on THE DELIVERY MAN, and it’s been a personal favourite of mine ever since. So; is this better? No….. of course not; but it’s very close to getting very close to the perfection of the original; and yes ……. I can imagine any or all of the classic Country Couples singing this it the Opry; and if they had, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house ….. or at home in TV and Radio Land. All in all this has been a brave album to record; but one that makes perfect sense when you know My Darling Clementine AND Elvis Costello; it’s a three-way marriage made in Nashville Heaven; and of course Steve Nieve is the Best Man too.
The cusp of Modern Folk, Lo-Fi and a few Avant Garde Poetic Flourishes.
Some albums really, really deserve your full attention when listening; and this latest offering from Nashville’s Anne Malin is one such. Before I go any further I may have to reconsider telling you she is from Nashville, as that mat pre-empt what you feel you are going to hear; be that mainstream Country from Music Row or something dark, dangerous and broody from the Est end of town. What Ms Malin does transcends either or both and has a more International ‘feel’ to it as it straddles the cusp of Modern Folk and what we used to know as Lo-Fi, with a few Avant Garde flourishes thrown in for extra flavour. If you fall instantly in love with opening song Empty Is The Day; as I did, you are in for a veritable treat; but if like Mrs Magpie you sniff and look disdainfully at the hi fi, then the man who put the disc in the player, before leaving the room ……. you are missing a very special record indeed. The quavering pity in Anne’s voice carries on throughout the whole album, and really brings out the pathos in her tragic tales; most especially the richly detailed What Brings My Eyes Open and Sleep. I said earlier that there are ‘Avant Garde flourishes’ here; and that’s how I feel about the painful poetic delivery in Mountain Song and again the title track The Waiting Game which somehow sounds something like Anne is channeling both Edith Piaf and Norma Waterson via a lifetime of heartbreak. While it’s often said that ‘there is nothing new in music’ THE WAITING SONG is as different an album as I’ve heard in ages; there’a Gothic sensitivity to many songs here; but in there lies a tragic beauty; none more so than the song I’m selecting as my Favourite; Pearly Sleigh, which finds Anne singing as she tinkles the piano; (or is it a harpsichord?) who knows or cares; it will never see the light of day on the wireless and I guess will scare the pants off the average Spotify listener; but to you and I it is a rare thing of poetic beauty. Anne Malin alongside partner William Johnston, and their album THE WAITING SONG are either destined for greatness, Awards and becoming the darling of the broadsheet newspapers; or will become something of a cult performer with winsome and brokenhearted young ladies and gentle-men hanging on her every word and deed; I doubt there will be a middle ground with some minor commercial success ……. unless the likes of Tim Burton uses one or more of her songs on a film soundtrack; which would be the perfect combination for me.
A Musical Jigsaw Full of Golden Melancholia and Dark Dreams.
First and foremost Singer/guitarist Steven K Driver is an occasional reviewer at RMHQ; but fear not ……… if this album had been crap I would have just ignored and pretended the postman hadn’t delivered it. (Not for the first time either!) But; just like their previous release OF GHOSTS, it’s the opposite of crap ……..it’s generally quite excellent in a Nick Cave meets The Handsome Family in a deserted fairground (or haunted forest) kind of way. If that synopsis doesn’t appeal, feel free to turn away now …… but if it does; you’re in for a deep, dark and gloomy treat. Opening track Numb, sets the scene perfectly well part droll, part introspective and part multi-layered Northern Gothic …… and I love it. The mood picks up on track #2 Defender; a single which has picked up numerous plays in August on various Indie Radio stations; and you can easily tell why. OK it’s certainly not Taylor Swift or McFly ‘commercial’ but if your tastes are left of centre, the modern jazz spine should appeal to you. For a band that never actually tours (they all have proper jobs and do this for ‘love’) The Agency have evolved a distinctive ‘sound’ with every part being absolutely essential to the final product (which might come from spending more hours ‘jamming’ than Coldplay and U2 combined! Ed.) While all of that ‘practicing’ certainly pays off on individual songs; the divine Abigail and Diplomacy spring to mind; but first and foremost this is an old fashioned Long Player that demands your attention from start to finish; with each individual song/story building a beautifully complex life of its own. Perhaps it’s the rich and slow way Driver croons, rather than sings that gives songs like The Affluent and Diplomacy a poetic feel; you know the type of thing Jim Morrison fans think he invented? Well Steven does that in a similar way; but perhaps a bit more authentically? The finale is something of a surprise, as it starts with a lonely singer poring over lost love then gradually the band lend a series of post-Americana flourishes to the chorus ……… different – certainly; fascinating too; but a direction I’d love to hear more of. Then; as is my won’t I must choose a Favourite Song, which isn’t easy as all of the constituent parts fit together like a musical jigsaw; but two songs have caught my attention in the last two days; when I was listening alone late at night (which I heartily recommend btw) ……. even the title To Fumble is Divine would normally have been enough to catch my attention; but I’d already fell in love with it before I knew what it was called; so this 4 minutes of golden melancholia must be special; mustn’t it? Well …. yes, it is. The other’ and the one that claims the title is Summer Town; which sounds like it should be the soundtrack to a slasher movie called In The Haunted Woods! Driver’s windswept and sorrowful voice aligned to a gentle melody draws you in to a very dark and almost Gothic tale; that to some extent is the cornerstone that the whole album revolves around. There you have it; an album from the North East’s best kept musical secret; and an album that will age better than a vintage red wine ….. ladies and gentlemen; I give you The Agency; thank me later.
Josh Turner COUNTRY STATE OF MIND Spinefarm Records
Sprinkling Stardust Across Some Dusty Ole Country Classics.
In general, the bigger the act RMHQ reviews the smaller the stats are regarding people reading the review; and Josh Turner, alongside Joe Bonamassa are the biggest culprits. It appears Turner’s fans don’t read the likes of ‘our site’ and our regular readers, don’t read Josh Turner reviews! Strange but true …….. yet I still like his music! Hey ho; let’s get onto the music. Like many of this type of ‘covers’ album, what is deemed a Country Classic is often a brand new song to me, which brings us neatly to the first song on Turner’s homage to the music the singer grew up with and fell in love to; opening track, the crisp and cool No Stranger to The Rain; which really comes to life due to his rich and ‘lived in’ voice; plus of course the singer’s trademark warble during the chorus. The first of the Guest Stars; John Anderson appears on Track #2; the bouncy I’ve Got It Made. Although brand new to me; it’s certainly the type of Country song I yearn for when I watch the CMA Awards every year! What’s not to like? A great story; a melody to die for, enough Twang to re-string a tennis racket and; of course …… two great voices. Of the songs I do know, the duet with Chris Janson, Country State of Mind (which even has a bonafide yodel at the end!!!) simply zips along like an old Bronco on a dusty red road; and Forever and Ever (Amen) featuring Randy Travis is as Country as Country is gonna get in 2020 ……. with some totally bodacious fiddle and mandolin playing; the likes of which I’ve not heard in years. There are delicious delights around every corner too. I don’t know Runaway June or the song You Don’t Seem To Miss Me; but the end result of this warm and tender duet is tragically beautiful (reminding me of Gram and Emmylou btw.) Apparently a ‘fan favourite’ during Turner’s concerts; I’m staggered that I’ve never heard Vern Gosdin’s I Can Tell By the Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight); but perhaps Fate was just waiting for the right time for me to appreciate it; and that time is now. It’s quickly obvious that Josh Turner genuinely loves these songs; as he finds something extra by singing from deep down in his heart; none more so in the album closer The Caretaker where he somehow sounds a bit like both Johnny Cash and Ray Price at the same time on a real tearjerker of a pure Country ballad. Another gorgeous duet, Alone in Forsaken; finds Turner’s vocals dropping an octave or two until he gets into Cash country again; and when Allison Moorer’s golden chords enter the fray the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end the first time I played it …… and even today I had to stop typing to listen ever more intently. When you read what an effect a song that good had on me you may rightly ask why it’s not my Favourite Track? Well; there are others that I like even more …… if you can believe that! It matters not a jot if you like Josh Turner or not; this album is an absolute doozy chock full of good ole fashioned Country Music; the type the naysayers think isn’t released anymore; and that brings me to the two songs I’m torn between for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song; and in keeping with the rest of the album they are as disparate as music gets; but indelibly stamped with Josh Turner’s distinctive watermark. The beautiful and brittle ballad Why Me; sung with Kris Kristofferson is a genuine highlight and stands out like a poppy in a field of wheat; but Hell’s Teeth anyone who has the colones to take on Waylon’s Dukes of Hazzard Theme has to be either reckless or a genius; and I feel Josh Turner falls into the latter camp here; giving the theme song to a whole generation the reverence it deserves but adding his own little bits and bobs; so I think ….. no; I know Theme From Dukes of Hazzard is my official Favourite Song on an album full of absolute belters!
The Painful and Beautiful End Of Country Heartbreak and Heartache.
You should know us here at RMHQ by now; we love music in all shapes and sizes; but best of all it’s discovering the ‘rusty gold’ that normally lies in the shadows, but deserves its time in the spotlight as much as a Million Selling Star from Tinsel Town. Such an act is Victor Camozzi; who sounds like he’s had one Helluva Life and with even a shred of common sense should have given this malarkey up by now and got a proper job. But, as he says when he paraphrases Townes Van Zandt: “I do this, not for the sake of shaking my ass or trying to be a Star…it’s the song, man. It’s just the song.“ And, #Spoiler Alert …….. if I’m any judge of an album, the world is a better place because of the songs on this album being in circulation. Even the album title appealed to me, Black Dog was the expression Winston Churchill used to describe his depression; then a cursory flick through the song titles gave the impression that this wasn’t going to rubbing shoulders with The Chicks or Taylor Swift in Walmart! Opening track Broken Hearts Roll sets the scene quite perfectly; a fabulous backing melody with occasional stinging electric guitar licks support a voice that sounds like it’s been through the emotional ringer more than once; on a tightly wrapped song that sounds like he romantically believes there still will be light at the end of the tunnel. Phew ……. track #2 Jar Full of Tears is the type of droll tearjerker that I’ve been waiting for both Steve Earle and even Mary Gauthier to write for years; but even they can’t conjure up the sad imagery that Victor manages with consummate ease. Personally I hope these songs have been written over a few years; because the pain that virtually bleeds out of See You In My Dreams and The Wrong Thing At The Right Time or more especially the saddest song Hank never wrote; Even The Whiskey would surely be too much for one man to take from one woman, wouldn’t it? You should understand that these songs aren’t for blasting out of the car hi-fi; these are so personal they need the comfort of a big armchair in a room with the light fading into darkness to get the best out of them; and if you haven’t already got a broken heart of your own; you will when you hear Camozzi fighting back the tears himself when he sings See You In My Dreams and more pertinently The Good Times. The title track Black Dog as as dark and miserable as you’d expect ….. or in my case, hope for. The brave way Camozzi describes these most innermost feelings is as brave as it is beautiful ……. just don’t expect to hear this song on the radio; even Leonard Cohen fans will think it a bit too sad for public consumption …….. but I know it’s a song I will come back to time and time again. Bring your own tissues and wine. Camozzi’s songwriting is ‘up there’ with the best of his generation IMHO, which brings me to the two songs I’m debating between for my accolade of Favourite Song ………. the razor sharp Ride at Dawn which sounds a bit like Kris Kristofferson singing Tom Russell after a night out with Willie and Cash; and the other; which is the type of song any songwriter can sit back and re-read and be extremely proud of; Horses I Won’t Ride. I’ve listened to it on the office stereo several times; but actually cried the first time I played it through headphones ……. man; can Victor Camozzi write a sad song and make it as beautiful as a dusty desert rose. This is Victor’s fourth album; but his first in six years; and if there is any justice at all in the crazy world of American Music will be the one that turns the corner for him; but I don’t know the effect that these songs will have on him singing them 5 nights a week on a World Tour.