The Flatlanders Treasure Of Love Rack’em Records & Thirty Tigers
A Timeless Set of Old and New Classic Tunes That Define Americana.
As the publicity shouts, this is the first album from the legendary combo in twelve years and therefore … expectations are high. Content-wise, lockdown has given the trio the chance to collect and finish recording songs of their own songs and a few covers that have appeared in their live sets, but had never been fully realised in the studio until now. The covers chosen suit the harmonies and heartbreak that have laced the Flatlanders’ output over many years – the Everly Brothers’ “Long Time Gone” sounds just as fragile as that earlier take, but now adds a wry world-weariness. Initial single release “Sitting on Top of The World” is a rollicking turn-taking ear-worm, whereas “Give My Love to Rose” is as much imbued with the spirit of Johnny Cash as you’re ever likely to hear in the 21st Century. Arrangements throughout are unfussy and wrought from the road; with the story and the timbre of the voices to the fore. Allocation of song to voice is strong too – Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s tremulous tones suit the melancholy title track “Treasure of Love;” whereas Ely and Hancock tend to take the narrative course on songs like “Satin Shoes” and “Mobile Blues”. In the trio format, there’s a good mix of turn-taking and two and three part harmonies, which offer a great deal of light and shade – “Ramblin’ Man” being a perfect example of where the egos retreat for the benefit of the song. With fifteen songs to go at, there’s plenty of variety too – favourites for me are all the ones where Jimmy Dale Gilmore takes the lead; but especially “The Ballad of Honest Sam” with its Western imagery and mythology – timeless and Classic. One low spot for me is the inclusion of the jokey “Mama Do the Kangaroo,” which is no doubt a live crowd-pleaser, but which sounds somewhat one dimensional and jars against the other material on offer – still, when you’ve got a skip button and fourteen other excellent tracks, I’m not complaining. Twelve years did you say? Let’s hope it’s not that long before The Flatlanders’ catalogue is further expanded, based on this timeless set of Classic tunes, old and new.
Vincent Neil Emerson Vincent Neil Emerson La Honda Records / Thirty Tigers
A Reflective, Thoughtful and Warmly Human Set of Texas Singer-Songwriter Tales.
Arising and evolving out of a tradition of Texas songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Steve Earle, Vincent Neil Emerson throws his contribution to that body of sound with gusto; and comes out with his own distinct take, on this self-titled release. There are elements of these listed influences scattered through the album – “Learnin’ to Drown” is vocally very Steve Earle in essence, and opener “Texas Moon” has the melodic feel of a young Guy Clark (and a bit of non-Texan John Prine too?) while “The Ballad of Choctaw-Apache” is very much in the Van Zandt story song mould. Such pigeon-holing would do Vincent Neil Emerson a disservice though – those are just starting points to get a handle on where his music has been birthed form, inspirationally, and there’s a lot more personal observations and experience too in this album. The aforementioned “Learning to Drown” is a cathartic release, dealing with Emerson’s father’s passing: “And I thought about closin’ the door And endin’ it all Like my father did before But it ain’t worth All the people who won’t see me anymore” Then there’s the earlier released single; “High on Getting By” which is a man coming to terms with the terms of our existence “Well I been drunk On the ideas of my future And I been high On gettin’ by”. Both are musically framed with washes of acoustic stringed instruments like mandolin and fiddle along with keyboards around a picked guitar and Emerson’s caramel vocals. Vincent Neil Emerson has certainly done his dues on the road, playing with friend Colter Wall, The Turnpike Troubadours and Charley Crockett too; and that road-toughness and sensitivity to other musicians is prominent throughout his own songs. Stylistic changes such as shifts into bluegrass territory on “High On the Mountain” and the Western Swing flavoured album closer “Saddled Up and Tamed” are handled and sequenced with careful placing – big praise must go to producer Rodney Crowell here too; who has forged a big and warm sound throughout; yet still managing to make each song sound ever so intimate at the same time. There are gems of lines to be found everywhere: “I pulled into Austin ‘Cause Fort Worth ain’t the same” from “High on the mountain” is one of many that will bring a wry knowing smile to any listener’s face. Over the ten tracks of the album, there’s a great deal of variety and depth but at the same time, there’s a clear Vincent Neil Emerson “sound” that is more than a just a composite of his influences. If Country singer-songwriter is your bag and you’re missing some of those that have left us and are looking for the next wave to roll up on the shore, you could do worse than getting your feet wet on this thoughtful and warmly human showcase of Vincent Neil Emerson tunes.
Where does the time go? It’s Friday already …. and the weekend starts here. Episode 12 and the listening figures are going up every week (as are the older ones too btw) …. so thanks for listening. This week we even have an actual 2021 Grammy Winner with a track from Bobby Rush’s RAWER THAN RAW album; as well as a runner up in the same category; young Alabama Slim’s THE PARLOR album. I’ve included two songs from Markus Rill’s Gateway Choices …… both Classics in their own rite (according to me).
New music comes from the fabulous Emma Scarr The Ontarians, Odd Birds and Clint Roberts; all well worth checking out on these very pages. Speaking of Emma Scarr, she also brings a bit of culture to proceedings with a beautiful poem. Local music is Rob Heron and the Teapad Orchestra; a band that genuinely defies categorisation and guarantees and a bloomin’ good night out. Then there are a few songs from albums you may never have heard; but should have, Slaid Cleaves, Matraca Berg and a duet between Malcolm Holcombe & Iris DeMent.
As you may have suspected, I have a new catchphrase ….. What’s Not To Like?
RMHQ Radio Show Jumpin’ Hot Club 35th Anniversary Special Pts #1 & 2
Bringin’ the Jive Since ’85
35 years ago this week in 1985 two young men. Graham Anderson and Adam Collerton booked their first act for the Jumpin’ Hot Club; and now in 2021 they are still announcing gigs from new and ground breaking Roots Acts in 2021.
The list of acts they’ve brought to the North East of England just goes on and on; with many household names in the Roots World making their first tentative steps into Europe courtesy of this nomadic club.
As a very minor cog over the last twenty years I’m proud to bring you two one hours shows highlighting the diversity of acts, if not an actual Best Of …….
Shantell Ogden ONE STEP CLOSER: Songs to Recover By Hip Farm Chic
Essential and Uneasy Listening About The Dark Side Of Life in 2021.
While the Covid Pandemic and assorted Lockdowns have been a bloody nightmare for all of us in a million different and very personal ways across 2020 and 2021 (we have had our losses too at RMHQ) music has been not just a lifeline; but a Silver Lining in many ways. With the household names generally going ‘woe is me’, being stuck at home has given many of us the opportunity to listen to some of the new music from ‘lesser known’ artists and actually buy their albums/singles/EP’s or indeed put something in the Tip Jar when they have streamed gigs from their living room to yours. That said; health organisations across the world have reported a corresponding increase in addictions of all kinds; what with being stuck at home with nothing to do but eat, drink and worry or worse. Shantell Ogden has collided both of these worlds by recording a back to basics acoustic album of songs about addiction in all its guises. This is Country Music kids and those who know Shantell’s previous albums, will already know what a good songwriter she is; and while there might not ‘be many laughs here’ it’s certainly not as doom and gloom as it might be.
The powerful and very sad St. Augustine starts the album and; as I did you will sit in awe at the story as it unfolds; about someone who tries and tries to quit ‘the needle’ but keeps falling back into the same old trap time and time again. This is the ‘real deal’ Country Music that Music Row and the Hat Acts choose to ignore; but much like many of the songs that follow; there’s a ‘terrible beauty’ in Shantell’s words and melody that will have you wiping some imaginary dust from your eyes. We all know someone like the character in Who Comes First? In this story it’s a man; but it could just as easily be a woman ……. because the ‘cheating isn’t with another woman’ it’s something worse. I dread using the word clever to describe songwriting; but it genuinely is the best was to describe the way Shantell gets us to invest in Trouble Road or High Way Calls without actually passing judgement; or feeling sorry and stepping aside; it’s actually about help to deal with the problem (even if it is over and over again). In her defence Shantell does give as much ‘light’ as there she does ‘shade’; but even the songs of Hope; One Step Closer and the finale Hand Up won’t exactly have you dancing in the aisles; but they do show that there is another life without whatever is hurting you. Choosing a Favourite Song feels a bit grubby; but when you hear Devil Comes Knockin’ you too will feel a shiver down your back as a solid gold Country Hit comes oozing out of your speakers like a spitting cobra; with a Steel Guitar. This song; and More Than You Know too, honestly sounds like they are destined for an album by someone a whole lot more famous than Shantell Ogden; but they won’t sound anywhere near as raw and honest as when Shantell Ogden sings them; ebut it might mean we get to see Shantell in her party frock at the CMA’s. ONE STEP CLOSER: Songs to Recover By is as far from Easy Listening as Country Music will ever get; but instead it is essential listening; especially if you know someone struggling with any form of addiction …. you aren’t alone. Hundreds of albums will be donated to those in recovery programs across the U.S. In addition, fan-funded concerts are also being planned to share the music live.
“It is our hope that this music will touch hearts and inspire healing,” adds Shantell.
I’m not even sure what drew me to this Mini-Album/EP last week. The CD cover is uninspiring; I’d obviously never heard of Byron Dowd before and while the Press Release eloquently describes Dowd’s back-story and name checks all the usual songwriters that I’d expect to see these days; but absolutely nothing prepared me for what I was about to hear ….. at all. The maudlin intro, with some extremely sad fiddle leads into a tragically world weary male singer and a Country Song of the finest hue; full of knowing strength and wisdom. My eyes nearly popped out of my head the first time I played A New Way; and had to put the Sunday paper down and go back to the beginning. The tale of a young man full of self-doubt; could and should be called Pawn Shop Guitar; as that’s the golden thread that weaves this gorgeously sorrowful story together; and just may be a tad autobiographical. The next song; High Road takes a similar path; as Dowd recounts something his Father once told him not long before he died; telling the son to ‘always take the high road and and show character; no matter what.’ Ain’t that the truth, brothers and sisters. As a bench mark; this track alone sounds like something Willie Nelson could have wrote recently and Johnny Cash recorded on his American series …… yup; it’s that damn good and indeed, poignant. Now I’ve been into this album for a few days; choosing a category for it to settle in hasn’t been easy; but while the storytelling is pure Americana; I can’t see past this being a good ole fashioned Country Album in the vein of Waylon, Willie and those first couple of Sturgill albums. Raindrop is a perfect example; it’s not quite Honky-Tonk but I can easily imagine Dowd singing the soul out of it one Friday night in some dusty and almost empty bar, just off an unlit highway; then on the Saturday night standing proudly pouring his heart out in a packed concert hall in the centre of the same City. To some degree picking a Favourite Track out of these five songs has been difficult; but the final two are both exemplary examples of a songwriter; and a Country Songwriter at that, stumbling on a seam full of gold and digging deeper than many would think necessary. Both songs have rather clever and neat twists to them; which I don’t intend spoiling; but Gasoline is a tale of retribution from a faithful brother who tells us; “My sister called last Sunday The pain in her voice I heard Twenty somewhat stitches Over a few just little words.“ then add the amazing fiddle of Milo Deering to eke out ever more pathos and you have a song that will haunt you forever more. The finale, Millertone is another song, tenuously ‘about a guitar’ and blew me away when the penny dropped. As I say I’m not spoiling the ‘twist;’ but imagine the waitress in Neil Young’s Unknown Legend having a Mother who worked in the same small town restaurant and ……… a young musician starts talking about his guitar ……. no; check it out and prepare to smile like a ninny while you sob your heart out. I don’t recognise any of the musicians featured here; but they and the arrangements are subtle and clever; always adding to the song and never threatening to over shadow the singer’s ‘barroom baritone,’ just always doing enough to keep your attention on the words; and the words are what this mini-album is all about. Apparently Dowd’s self-titled album in 2012 flitted around the top of the AMA Charts; but fame and fortune didn’t follow, so he packed away his stage gear and got on with life, until his son asked why he had so many guitars ……. and HIGH ROAD is the result.
As you know we receive a lot of singles at RMHQ; and the vast majority have to fall by the wayside simply for logistical reasons; but this single is as fascinating as it is poignant and prescient.
The Covid19 lockdown has been a difficult time for many people, none more so than the over 70’s. But for legendary Irish Country singer Brendan Quinn it’s been a very productive time and he’s now releasing his lockdown themed single “Will We Ever Be Free” and is announcing a full album too. “Not being able to do what I’ve been doing for 50 odd years came as a bit of shock! says Brendan, “Everything just stopped last February …… no more music. I had a 14 day tour lined up for May, gigs and festivals over the summer, all cancelled. But I tried to stay positive, I walked most every day and started to stream gigs live on FB from my front room. I did it every day for 100 days and I reckon I sang about 700 songs. I really enjoyed interacting with all the folk online but it’s just not the same as playing in front of an audience but it kept me connected to my music.”
Back when CMT used to play music videos, they could always be relied upon to provide a selection of Classic Country-Pop female artists – if the channel hadn’t morphed into a lifestyle and reality channel, then Lindsay Ell would surely find her place in whatever the modern equivalent is. HEART THEORY, which is described as a concept album around the seven stages of grief; places uncomfortable emotions into an accessible format. Opener “Hits me” is pure Swiftian glossy pop (Taylor, not Jonathan btw) which addresses the shock of grief – she’s “happy ‘til it hits me.” “How Good” embraces stop-start-loud-soft dynamics and begs for someone to take a chance on her, before the musical mood shifts on “I Don’t Love You,” which develops a wider lyrical observational field about not loving someone any more but missing them all the same – even in a quieter track, the epic production magnifies and forces everything into a mainstream form. “Want Me Back” takes the classic theme of the singer being the best option for the former partner and slams it right back them, anthemically speaking, whereas “Get Over You” takes a more cynical approach towards a former relationship where the other is again the one who needs to get themselves sorted. “Wrong Girl” which follows is in the same vein, with the singer rebuking the role of a servile victim over 2 minutes and thirty-six seconds of running bass and power chords. There is a narrative shift on “Body Language of a Breakup” from first to third person which is used to universalise the experience under review, with didactic pre-choruses reinforcing the affirmative observations in the hook. “Good on You” takes things down musically and tries to adopt a more philosophical approach to break-up. The semi-ironic title again wrestles with the difficulty of a break-up before a Carlos Santana-esque guitar break flutters in and out of the part-rapped vocal. “The Other Side” takes a more reflective and positive approach – AAAA rhymes, fluid guitar and strings put this firmly in the pop corner, which is wholly appropriate for such cathartic expressions of emotional recovery. “Go To” takes the loud-soft brick-wall limited approach beloved of the Nashville Broadway party bus crowd and rocks out on hedonism, before things slow down on the reflective life diary of “Make You” which holds back on the big rush choruses for a gentler pop-ballad feel. “Ready to Love” completes the emotional journey of the album with its double-tracked vocal lines and euphoric mission statement tag-lines. The whole album is one big sugar-rush of Country AND Pop goodness, perfect for commercial radio, with every track pulling out all the hooky lyrical, production and musical stops to grab the listener’s attention and even, heartstrings.
Various Artists Back to Paradise (A Tulsa Tribute(To Okie Music) Horton Records.
A Heartfelt Labor of Love To The Great Music of Oklahoma.
Back To Paradise: A Tulsa Tribute to Okie Music? That means 17 Songs Written by Leon Russell, JJ Cale, The Gap Band, Jesse Ed Davis & a host of Others you may not have heard of, but will love discovering. Even though tribute albums are always a labor of love, they can sometimes be hit or miss. Just because you love a song, doesn’t mean you’re able to pull off a convincing version of it. Doing justice to the songs of Leon Russell, J.J. Cale, the Gap Band, Dwight Twilley, and Hoyt Axton, amongst others, is no easy feat. So when twenty notable Tulsa, Oklahoma musicians decided to record this album of classic Okie Country and Rock’n’ Roll tunes, they went the next logical step and traveled to Leon Russell’s famed Paradise Studio, and for four days, made a mostly live ‘in the studio’ performance recording of their efforts. Produced by Jason Weinheimer & Them Tulsa Boys—with a fun party vibe throughout, you can tell these cats were having fun, fun, fun! Because of that, these songs certainly bring the Tulsa Sound to the masses. They don’t reinvent the wheel on any of these songs, but thankfully don’t go the paint by numbers route, either; giving a nice reverence to the material, and an understanding that what made this music special wasn’t just the location, but the sum of its parts. Gospel back-beat drums, funky bass, and relaxed grooves all frequent the tunes here alongside some great and soulful vocalizing by Paul Benjamin who bookends the album with the J.J. Cale song “I’ll Make Love to You Anytime,” and a version of “Mona Sweet Mona” originally done by Teegarden and Van Winkle. John Fullbright, gets to go full gospel on “Crossing Over,” a Steve Ripley tune, then showcase his vocals on both a Leon Russell song, and a Hoyt Axton classic too, namely “If the Shoe Fits” and “Jealous Man.” Soul singer Branjae gleefully pulls off “Tramp,” most notably a duet between Carla Thomas and Otis Redding, while Sarah Frick blows the doors off with a rocking good version of the Dwight Twilley song “I’m on Fire.” There are surprises of the pleasant variety around every corner; none more so than Tulsa musician Jesse Aycock shining on “Tulsa County” and “Black Cherry;” but my favorite on this compilation has to be his exceedingly soulful version of the Gypsy Trips’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsies.” Another fantastic track is when Charlie Redd and Briana Wright get together to hoot and holler their way through a rousing redo of the Gap Band’s “I Yike It,” with a “so cool it’s hot” instrumental opening by the studio band, who likewise did a bang up job on J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High,” too; giving everybody a moment to cut loose. A labor of love, lovingly and convincingly pulled off by twenty great Oklahoma musicians. Review by the Legendary Roy Peak