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
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.
Pin Point Americana Pictures, Painted with Laconic Lyrics and Beautiful Imagery.
What do you do when you are a world-wide, iconic elder statesman of Texas, nay American, popular music and you reach the ripe old age of 87? Well, if you’re Willie Nelson and you’ve just won your 13th. Grammy for last year’s critically acclaimed “Ride Me Back Home,” you go straight back in the studio and lay down 11 new tracks for your 70th. studio album. Yes, there have been 69 previous releases. The word “legend” just doesn’t do this man justice. Originally scheduled for an April 2020 release “First Rose of Spring” has been held back, due to the world-wide Coronavirus pandemic, until Friday 3rd. July. Again, paired with his long-term friend Buddy Cannon as producer, they co-wrote 2 of the songs while the other 9 have been carefully selected from contemporary and traditional song-writers. Opening with the title track First Rose of Spring, which was composed by the young song-writing team of Randy Houser, Allen Shamblin & Mark Beeson, we are welcomed with a slow, love at first sight ballad that could have been written by Willie himself and really sets the tone for the other 10 tracks. Blue Star and Love Just Laughed are the 2 tracks that Willie and Buddy co-wrote and again they undoubtedly hit the high standard that the great man just keeps maintaining, even as the years roll on and on and on. I’ll Break Out Again Tonight provides a heart-wrenching prisoners dream, with a laid back pedal steel guitar adding to the lights out delusion whilst Toby Keith’s Don’t Let The Old Man In fits like a glove; with the hard hitting chorus of “Ask yourself how old you’d be If you didn’t know the day you were born”. Stealing Home is another Classic Country ballad that would bring a tear to a glass eye, reminiscing and looking back on an idyllic childhood with the chorus ending with: “damn old Father Time for stealing home”. Just Bummin’ Around composed by Peter Graves is a slightly humorous, uptempo western-swing tune, whilst the surprise of the album is a completely new song written by Grammy winning, contemporary hit-maker Chris Stapleton, entitled Our Song. I almost selected Yesterday, When I Was Young (Hier Encore) as my favourite. A superb cover of a 1964 Charles Aznavour chanson which was Roy Clark’s biggest ever country hit in 1969, but my vote goes to We Are The Cowboys. This is a cover of another long-time hell-raising, outlaw Texan, the one and only Billy Joe Shaver, that has a haunting, home on the range type harmonica backing, to drive home the chorus of :- We are the cowboys the true sons of freedom We are the men who will get the job done We’re picking our words so we won’t have to eat them We’re rounding them up and then driving them home. It’s a scene stealing tune about life in the Lone Star State and even more poignantly, it’s written by another walking, talking, fabled Texan. The pictures painted with such laconic, pin point lyrics simply put the icing on the cake of yet another wonderful set of songs. How does he keep on doing it? Willie Nelson is truly unique and, as ever, conveys real feelings through his music and makes every song his own.
Prinz Grizzley To My Green Mountains Home Self-Released
Carefully Planned and Crafted Country Songs from From Downtown Austria.
The title of this, Prinz Grizzley’s second album, after “Come On In” forms the second part of a sentence – the full scope of which will be completed by the title of the third album (For those of you not paying attention at the back, that’s: #1. Come On In # 2. To My Green Mountains Home #3…?”). This carefully planned and crafted approach is reflected through the release, where the songwriting stands to the fore – each track standing alone, but also as part of a cohesive body of reflections on the life and loves of the everyman – whether he’s from East Nashville, or the fabulously monickered Egg, Austria, home of Prinz Grizzley aka Chris Comper. The fuzz guitar, pedal steel and soulful vocal of the opening track “You Don’t Know Love” explores how love is seen from different viewpoints and acts as a primer for many of the tracks to come, in lyrical content. “Nothing Left But Scars” and “Keep The Fire High” both deal with failed love and musically bring in a few psychedelic touches with swirly organ from producer Beau Bedford on the former, whereas the latter is laced with a fuzzy bass-led cosmic cowboy groove. “Meet Me at The Pines” is even lyrically bleaker with the song’s character wanting to save someone – who he himself has pushed to the edge, thus is the paradoxical nonsensical nature of relationships. Things get a bit more hopeful in theme on “Longing For a Fire” where driving mandolin and harmonica create an adrenaline rush of hope for the singer who wants love but can’t change to get it – and “All I got is buckets filled with rain”. Positivity and the finding of love is out there though and on “Drifting” – with Erin Rae featured on soaring backing vocals – there “ain’t no way back to solitude” because our hero, on the cliff-edge of emotional disaster has found love. Elsewhere on the album, there’s a great deal of exploration of the working class everyman; “Rush Little Man”’s melancholy pedal steel underscores a talking blues which explores similar themes to Springsteen’s “Factory”, whereas father issues and wanting to be something different romps along to a train beat on the Texas Meat Purveyors’ style “Cutting Wood”. There’s a tribute to the strength of women and how they support men on the Mexican rhythms of Magdalena but for me the album’s standout track is the Waits-ian “Shovel” a story of the immigrant working man who comes to town, works hard – and gets the girl, much to the chagrin of the locals who think he’d “better stick to the shovel”…. The title track is a fluid Gill Landryesque paean to small town life and tradition – and to feel part of something. Recorded live in a couple of takes, it’s a confident and snug performance which reflects the security that home can give you – and that theme is also played out gloriously on the final track which launches into Decemberists territory with the sea shanty singalong of “The Salty Life of Ocean” which reaffirms that everything may go to pieces but you can always “go home to the safe shore”. Prinz Grizzley with “To My Green Mountains Home” have delivered a carefully crafted thing of beauty – apart from Chris Comper and his band the Beargaroos, kudos must also go to producer Beau Bedford who has made sure that performances and sound match the sentiments perfectly to create a finely honed and mature record. Looking forward to Number Three!
As is oft the case I knew less than nothing about Darlin’ Brando when this album first arrived; but my when my eyes saw the cover artwork I immediately presumed I’d like the contents and might even be angry if I didn’t! Then; had I picked it up in a record shop and asked the assistant to play a track or two (is that still legal in 2020?) then opening tracks When You Don’t Fight and Those Old Demons would certainly have sealed the deal. The former is a relatively traditional and delightful duet between Darlin’ Brando himself and Edith Freni (who just happen to be husband and wife); reminding me more of George and Tammy rather than Gram and Emmylou; which is the default setting these days. Then, Those Old Demons has a hint of Tex Mex in the guitar and pedal-steel; and again the couple sing to and about each other in a way many try but most regularly fail. I’m a few weeks into the album now; and am impressed by the melodies across most every song; which might sound odd but you’d be surprised to know how much Country music we hear that somehow either fudges the melody or ignores it altogether (Country-Jazz anyone?). To best understand where this album is coming from you have to know that Darlin’ Brando aka the least sounding Country Singer Brandon Goldstein was born and raised in Virginia then settled in LA after his college days with a stint in Brooklyn in-between before eventually rocking up in downtown Nashville; which accounts for the lovely laid back West Coast sounds on Weeds & Flowers and Year One; but also the Classic thread that links Crumbling Marriages and the up-tempo Honky Tonkying Last Call and beyond. Last Call, by the way features none other than RMHQ Favourite AJ Croce bashing the piano in the background. While it’s been very easy to like this album; two songs in particular stand out and are vying for my Favourite Song status. The Old Man and the Kid closes the album in a neat and gentle West Coast manner, with Darlin’ Brando somehow managing to sound like a solo CS&N; while the other; Therapy is a modern Honky Tonk Classic. Choosing one of life’s great taboos as a theme for a Country song is really brave; but works beyond even the wildest of imaginations. For a debut album this is well worthy of your attentions; and most certainly leaves several doors open for Goldstein to go through on his new musical adventure.
Powerful, Passionate and Insightful Songs of Break-Up and Redemption.
Nashville based, single mum of two Sarah Jane Nelson is a new name to me and probably to most other music lovers here in the UK. But, don’t let that prevent you from not giving her more than a second glance at this review of her new album. Fact is, Sarah Jane is a revelation and delivers a coherent set of songs that reflect her recent past and how she comes to terms with a broken marriage. However, what unfolds through the songs is a resilient, determined and brave lady who has delved deep into her soul to write and record 11 fine tracks, plus a bonus of an acoustic cover of The Backstreet Boys finest from over 20 years ago. Don’t though expect spite and vitriol. Yes, I can hear pain, humiliation and sadness but it’s more the facing up to reality with a vivid honesty from a fighter determined to rebuild a life. This set of songs project a person who’ll damn-well make sure she bounces back. The opening track “Break our Hearts” has some sweet violin from Andrea Young plus a haunting pedal steel guitar from Smith Curry; behind a vocal duet that could quite easily be Faith Hill and Tim McGraw; it really is that good. “Gone” has what is almost unique on country records these days; a wah-wah guitar inter-twined with pedal steel and banjo. But, let me stress, it works. We then get a mid-tempo feel from a slightly more light-hearted “Dragged” where Sarah Jane tells us “you gotta let go, or you’re gonna get dragged”. I really liked the opening line to “Her or Me” where we are told that “Whiskey is a woman, she says the sweetest things, One sip and you’re ready to dance”. Whilst the guided missile lyrics of “I Only Cry at Night” hit the target, smack bang on the bulls eye. If you were to push me for my favourite track, then the up-tempo fiddle, banjo and bottle-neck guitar of “Reap What You Sow” would probably be my preferred choice. It’s actually the chorus punchline that resonates with me, with Sarah telling us what she really, really thinks of her ex and his new partner: “He’s a bag of dirt and you’re the hoe”. Wow! Getting over the trauma of a marriage that went wrong (which sadly is a facsimile of her experience as a child via her own parents split) is the crystal clear theme throughout. Nevertheless, don’t let that put you off, this is a Country album after all and a damn fine at that. Excellent songs containing lovely melodies and reflective, touching words. The title of the album is blatantly apt, as it is plain for one and all to see that Sarah Jane Nelson is well on the way to being mended. Don’t just take my word for it though, ask our Head of Operations (HOM) in our household, she is a huge fan of the aforementioned group of established female singer-songwriters in my final paragraph, and it is she who has commandeered the album and I strongly believe that I’ll struggle to get it back now. Musically, Sarah Jane has some of Nashville’s finest providing a full and interesting backing that ensures a wide spectrum of instrumentation. The early years she spent in Broadway Shows undoubtedly weren’t wasted and vocally we hear an extremely warm, clear and strong voice. If you like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea or Alison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynne then you can add another name to the list.
Courtney Marie Andrews IT MUST BE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT Loose Records
This is the third single to be taken from the new album OLD FLOWERS (released July 24th) and Andrews shares, “Old Flowers is about heartbreak. There are a million records and songs about that, but I did not lie when writing these songs. This album is about loving and caring for the person you know you can’t be with. It’s about being afraid to be vulnerable after you’ve been hurt. It’s about a woman who is alone, but okay with that, if it means truth. This was my truth this year—my nine-year relationship ended and I’m a woman alone in the world, but happy to know herself.”
The release of Old Flowers continues a series of breakout years for Andrews following her critically acclaimed 2018 album, May Your Kindness Remain. The album was featured on several year-end lists including Rolling Stone, who called it, “a vital roadmap of grace, forgiveness and compassion during a year when the demand for such virtues has never been higher.” Additionally, NPR Music proclaimed, “a collection of songs, borne from interactions with others, that strives for healing and empathy in the midst of division and discord.”