Allison Russell OUTSIDE CHILD

Allison Russell
Outside Child
Fantasy Records

An Album Full of Stark Contrasts, But With a Light That Ultimately Shines Through The Cracks.

For a change, I’m gong to start at the end with this review, as I believe the closing track “Joyful Motherfuckers” holds the oxymoronic key to this release – if ever there was an album which was a cathartic release, this is it.
Allison Russell has seen and experienced a lot of the dark in her life; but her attitude is
If you’ve got love in your heart,
but it’s way down in the dark
You better let it see the sun
.”
– it’s a message of hope that cuts through the centre of everything on this debut Solo Album.
There’s a gratitude for experience that is seen from the off with “Montreal” a jazzy opener that veers between Taylor Swift, Richard Hawley and especially Jane Birkin its delivery.
The last time I saw Allison was alongside husband JT in concert as half of Birds of Chicago was in a tiny pub in Glasgow; and on that occasion she told a lengthy tale of the genetic/spiritual bond that links generations – and “Nightflyer” takes that as its core – again there’s oxymoronic tension in the deep lyrics
I’m a violent lullaby”,
but set this time it comes out as laid-back Gospel-Soul.
“Persephone” takes a more Countryfied vein and is a celebration of salvation through the strength or existence of a sympathetic other
My petals are bruised but I’m still a flower
– placing the past in context and making sense of a person and a time.
“4th Day Prayer” is a really tough listen
Father used me like a wife
Mother turned the blindest eye
Stole my body, spirit, pride
He did he did each night

but even amongst this horror, there’s the preservation of strength and an indefatigable desire to survive despite everything …
One for the hate that loops and loops
Two for the poison at the roots
Three for the children breaking through
Four for the day we’re standing in the sun

– this section is a unified, determined chant, which underscores the sentiment’s absolute strength at its core.
“The Runner” continues this theme and uses Indie-Soul to tell a tale that listener’s to the Velvet Underground’s “Rock’n’Roll” will be familiar with
– the redemptive power of music.
“Hy-Brasil” is another song that deals with the the theme of ancestry, but this time, it’s a deep dive into the mystical, set against a Celtic heartbeat rhythm and distant echoed parallel vocal, all washed in a serving of reverb.
“The Hunters” returns to the dark story of Russell’s abuse by her step-father and is verbalised in childlike, fairy-tale language.
It’s darker side is insidious – you could hear this on Radio 2 or in a high street chain store and it’s radio-friendly soul would wash over you – until you started to listen a little more closely to the lyrics.
“All of the Women”, set against a simple banjo rhythm creates an ode to the universal –
the women who disappeared” from a personal story of connection.
“Poison Arrow” is somewhat of an outlier in the settings of the album in that its starting point is based in the present, rather than a past experience – it’s about dealing with a place that was once painful, but which now offers new hope, seen through the fresh eyes of Russell’s young daughter
Je te souhaîte une deuxième chance” (I wish for you a second chance)”.
Its light Philly Soul reinforces this sense of optimism.
Penultimate track “Little Rebirth” is a musing on our insignificant/significant place in the universe
Chimes in the morning
Feet to the Earth
We’re all transforming
A little Rebirth

– set against a sparse arrangement, it places Russell’s voice to the for; adding extra gravitas to the singers’ sentiments – and her use of the French language throughout (which happens frequently across the whole album) adds a cosmopolitan universality too….and then it’s back to where I started, with ‘that’ powerful closing track “Joyful Motherfuckers”….
There are some albums that are just heard and some that need to be intently listened and then thought about – Alison Russell’s debut solo release is very much the latter – it’s an album of stark thematic lyrical contrasts in which the light ultimately shines through.

Review by Nick Barber

Released May 21st 2021
https://allisonrussellmusic.com/

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The Wanted STRANGE FLIGHT

The Wanted
Strange Flight
Self-Release

Beautifully Blurring the Lines Between Folk and Alt. Country

This is another one of those “whoops I missed it” albums that come along every now and again. Originally sent to me at the turn of the year by a trusted PR but got lost in the swell of new albums in January; then last week Richard, from the band themselves got in touch; totally unawares of my oversight …… presumably like so many other musicians he won’t read the review; so will never know about my Faux Pas!
First and foremost; this is the ‘other’ and apparantly ‘original’ The Wanted from Canada and not the Popsters from Ireland; so several of you might want to turn away now.
If you’re still with me; you’re in for a bit of a rare treat; as this The Wanted, are actually very good indeed; treading the path that marks out Alt. Country and Americana albeit with that Canadian ‘edge’ and trademarked ‘cool’ that is s difficult to put into words.
Opening track Way Down In The Hole has an urgency that I’ve not heard for a long time; with Natalie Rogers providing a breathy and almost breathless vocal performance worthy of The Ryman on a steamy Saturday night, and cohorts Jeff Rogers (guitar) and Richard Henderson (lap steel guitar) provide not just powerful musical accompaniment; but scary harmonies too …… hence; I’m in for the long haul.
In the bio the band make reference to Michael Timmins’ production; which took them into new areas that the trio didn’t know they were capable of performing; presumably this means songs like Jeff Rogers’ Roadhouse blaster Miss Me When I’m Gone and the Twangtastic Rotary Phone; which both sound as if they are from a band steeped in Southern States swampy grooves; and the album is all the better for them.
Timmins’ lightness of touch comes across on not just Natalie’s sad, sad crooning Stand Up and Weary Town Blues; and the harmonies on the latter might just send a shiver down your spine; but the slow and sultry Before The Fall, too.
There’s even an angsty and steamy Lo-Fi song; I Guess; sung by Richard Henderson in a grizzled Levon Helm manner ; but no matter; it is a definite ‘keeper’ here.
Although Track #1 Way Down In The Hole is apparantly a Tom Waits song; I’ve never heard it before; but the other ‘cover song’ is the ubiquitous Wayfaring Stranger; which is difficult to a bad version of but nonetheless a brave song to record, because of that and The Wanted certainly do it justice; using space to let the words breathe and Jeff Rogers’ intricate guitar picking to add extra pathos; as if it were needed, but works exceptionally well.
For a Favourite Song I’ve been torn between the haunting title track Strange Flight; a dreamy duet between Natalie and Jeff, which couldn’t come from anywhere other than Canada in my humble opinion; and the other Fire & Gasoline, which by The Wanted standards is quite punchy; even erring on something of a Country-Blues tip; and again the Richards’ dry grizzled tones reminding me of Levon Helm; which has to be a good thing …… so that’s where the accolade finally rests (sorry Natalie!).
Obviously we don’t have the capacity to review absolutely every album we receive; so some gems will sadly slip through the net ……. but I’m thrilled Richard got in touch after reading a review on the site; oblivious to me ignoring the album first time around …… don’t you make the same I made; try it then buy it …. you can thank me later.

Released March 2021
https://thewanted.ca/

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Alex Roberts LIVE AT THE VIC INN (Colchester)

Alex Roberts
Live at the Victoria Inn, Colchester (Feb 2020)
Self-Release/Bandcamp

Exciting, Intriguing and Very Intimate Contemporay Folk Music.

I’m not sure why; perhaps it’s an age thing, or a rare side effect from the AstraZeneca anti-Covid jab; but I’m being drawn to Folk Music at the moment.
Mercifully not the ‘finger in the ear’ type about fair maidens and flagons of ale; but rather some really exciting and innovative music by the likes of Alex Roberts.
This is his ninth album and because I don’t move in the same circles, I’d never heard of him before he sent me a very polite e-mail a few weeks back about this release; but I’ve had a couple of days when this is all I’ve played at home.
For a Live Album recorded in a pub; the sound quality is exceptional; adding a warm texture to Robert’s well rounded and expressive voice, but oddly making his acoustic guitar playing sound as sharp as a cutthroat razor; right from the opening track Wandering Aengus.
I don’t want to put off my regular readers when I tell you that this is a re-working of a WB Yeats poem; fear not …… this is actually a darkly beautiful tale; accompanied by bouzouki playing so intricate, I swear at least two strings must have become entwined by the end.
Yes; of course this is Folk Music; but the universal kind that you ‘get’ where Alex Roberts is coming from when you hear his plaintive rendering of Leadbelly’s In The Pines …….. woah…… woah and thrice woah; while this is stark and brooding; you can not only hear a pin drop in the room; but I guess the audience were afraid to breathe out for fear of spoiling the hypnotic mood coming from the small stage.
If you’re still not convinced; Roberts’ almost reinvents Richard Thompson’s Modern Classic; Vincent Black Lightning, slowing it down to a snail’s pace which allows each word and note to hover above you before fading into the ether.
Strangely with those two songs here it’s actually Alex’s own songs that are why this is album is worth taking a punt on.
Love Too Strong is exactly what you would hope a song of that title would suggest; only better; and the oddly titled Petrichor is just as quietly stunning even if you weren’t to know that it is a love song to the singer’s wife.
Personally I love the way Robert’s generally doesn’t start singing straight away on his songs; allowing his dexterity on the guitar enough room to guide you towards the words like a flickering candle; nowhere better than the biting Carry Me and The Pyramid too.
Even though this is a Live Album, most of the extraneous bits have been edited out; leaving the music to have the frisson of a live setting; but no boring whooping and wailing to get in the way of future plays.
Now; selecting a Favourite Song has been difficult; as so much here is well worthy of your valuable time; yet easy as who among us doesn’t like a song about a Peregrine Falcon?
Seriously I was smitten with Hacking Back to The Wild the first time I heard it; not realising what the subject matter was. But; the more I’ve heard it it, the more this particularly moving song has stayed with me.
It’s songs like this one which leave me standing in awe at the skill and imagination that musicians have and use to paint pictures with words and music alone, in a way I can’t even dream about, especially when they are as delicate as the instrumental, Durdle Door.
For the uninitiated like myself Alex Roberts comes from the school of Folk musicians that spawned John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch and arguably; the young Tom Waits and that’s not too much of a stretch; trust me.

Released April 20th 2021
https://www.alexrobertsmusic.com/

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Jason McNiff DUST OF YESTERDAY

Jason McNiff
Dust of Yesterday
Tombola Records

A Singer-Songwriter Deluxe That Transcends Simple Genrefication

I was rather smitten by Jason McNiff’s last release, Joy & Independence in 2018; and a lot has happened in his life in the intervening years, most notably his leaving of London and settling in windswept and interesting Hastings on the South Coast.
While that last release was stark and basic in construction; here McNiff has upped the ante right from opening song For The First Time, which sets the tone quite beautifully, with the singer’s silky voice and dextrous finger-picked guitar styling complimented by (producer) Roger Askew, Beth Porter and Basia Bartz who add not just musical accompaniment; but a touch of class too, albeit in the shadows.
Sometimes I find myself having to think carefully about the words I use (not that you would notice!) as some can be taken ‘the wrong way’; and here I want to use ‘charming’ to describe the overall feeling that Jason’s songs leave on me; but I don’t want you to think for a second that they are ‘twee’ in any shape or form.
Far from it; the title track Dust of Yesterday and Wherever I Choose too; are beautifully constructed and eloquent modern Folk Songs; but have a sharp Americana ‘edge’ to the words and the way McNiff plays with imagery; yet they still sound quite ‘lovely’ ….. which is quite a trick to pull off.
Many years ago, when he first moved to London it coincided with Bert Jansch’s final weekly residency at the 12 Bar Club; and McNiff was at first entranced watching the Master Craftsman at work, then the two became friends ……. and Jansch’s legacy lives on through McNiff and the Folk Cognoscenti will be thrilled to hear the guitar playing on songs like Mary Jane and A Load Along; but the younger man’s vocal styling owes a lot more to the likes of Mark Knopfler, Paul Simon and Jackson Browne; and it’s no stretch to think his songwriting is in a similar vein too.
While intrinsically set in the world of English Folk Music; Jason McNiff’s song construction has more than a whiff of Americana in it too as Try For The Sky and the tragically beautiful If You Could See Me Now prove every time I hear them.
If you accidentally caught him at a Songwriter’s night somewhere you’d be left puzzled whether he was an American trying to sound English; or vice versa; and that’s meant as a compliment as he will fit in both well on both sides of the Atlantic.
As I say many times; this is an old fashioned long playing record and will be best served by you sitting comfortably and letting the music seep in; but there are two very notable songs that deserve special mention and therefore tie for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song.
Damaged Woman is both claustrophobic and fascinating; is it a story? A poem? A fantasy? Each of us will draw our own conclusion and; again …. that’s quite a trick to pull off.
Then; there is Tom; a gentle tale that weaves in between being a love story for a long lost friend; and perhaps even something of a ghost story ……. quintessentially English in style; but will tug on heartstrings all around the world.
There’s much to like about this album; and Jason McNiff himself; not least the richness to his voice, which makes these songs quite timeless yet contemporary at the same time and especially the way the guitar interludes within the songs; allow the stories to breathe and develop; allowing the listen to really envelope themselves with the music.
. Although I’ve said Jason McNiff is probably most at home on the Folk Circuit; don’t pigeon-hole him; judging by this album he is a Singer-Songwriter Deluxe that transcends simple genrefication; try him ….. you’ll like him.

Released April 16th 2021
https://www.jasonmcniff.com/

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KB Bayley LITTLE THUNDERSTORMS

KB Bayley
Little Thunderstorms
Self-Release

A Favoured Side-Man Effortlessly Moves Into The Spotlight.

Even though this album isn’t released until later in the week; I appear to be ‘late to the party;’ as all of the cool kids and influencers in our little world have been going absolutely bonkers for this debut release from *Son of Northumbria (Whitley Bay to be precise), KB Bayley in the last few weeks.
To some greater or lesser extent; not knowing what to actually expect, the atmospheric Dobro and sleazy slide guitar intro to track #1 Cold Rain; probably led me to expect something of a Bluesy number; but no…. no …and indeed no; KB is a lot of things; and much of it may even be influenced by Americana; but a Blues Singer he ain’t.
Or is he?
When you hear his weather worn, yet velvety voice pouring his heart out about a lost love while standing in the Cold Rain ‘waiting on a slow train, coming down the line,’ who’s to argue that a pasty white boy can’t sing the Blues?
Not me; that’s for sure.
First and foremost this is a Singer-Songwriter album with an intrinsically British slant to it, somewhere in the grand tradition of Ralph McTell and more recently Chris Difford and Ben Glover (who adds backing vocals to one song here).
Most every song is so full of minutiae and intimate detail; it’s like listening to 4 minute kitchen sink drama on the radio, played out to a silvery intricate musical backdrop.
You’d never believe that these songs were recorded at home on second-hand equipment; but that somehow adds to the pathos in Throw It In The River and North Shore Road with Bayley’s exquisite finger-picked guitar playing sounding like it’s your heart strings that are being plucked at the same time as a mournful harmonica gently cuts through like a winter breeze.
I need to jump back to track #2, the titular Little Thunderstorms because I was listening to another track a few minutes ago and just felt the urge to go back and listen more intently, to this darkly poeric and almost Gothic Folk song. I was correct; Bayley’s storytelling really does raise the bar for his peers out there; gently leading us towards an approaching cliché; then KERPOW – he hits us with lines and observations that bely his tender years.
This happens again and again; with Time to Leave Town and Cray About Me being prime examples; lines springing to mind when I least expected it over the last week or so.
Bayley includes a striking and powerful instrumental towards the end; Wayfaring Stranger (Redux) ….. part Ry Cooder, part Welsh Celtic and a nod in the direction of the Northumbrian Hills combine to create a piece of music that just begs for a wise Film Director to use it in a Murder Mystery set in some dark hinterland.
There’s a delightful starkness about this recording; which obviously comes from the claustrophobic conditions imposed by Lockdowns I through III; but don’t think that this is a one man band; it’s not. Although Bayley plays numerous instruments, other musicians have added their very own golden musical threads at a later date, bringing an added texture and occasional warmth to everything here; so thanks must got to Backing vocals from Claudia Stark and Jim Cozens: pedal steel from Charlie Jonas Walter (of bluegrass duo Jonas and Jane), electric guitar from Backwoods Creek’s Dean Parker, and chorus vocals on ‘Blood Red Lullaby’ by Proper Records artist Ben Glover.
That latter song; Blood Red Lullaby starts with an AM radio announcer then bleeds into a really tightly constructed bittersweet song about how memories; be it on a global scale like those we have for JFK but more pertinently, family and friends taken too soon, effect us in more ways than are always inherently obvious at the time.
For my Favourite Track it has been a bit of a conundrum; as the David Olney film Noir influenced (?) Night Dogs stands out like a raw, bloodied sore thumb and will live with me for years to come.
But; me being a sucker for a Love Song, I’ve been drawn back to North Coast Girl several times, as I am a Northern Boy married to a North Coast Girl; and Bayley’s cold and haunting tale is right up there with the very best of its genre. Is it about a Lover, a Mother or a Fantasy Figure?
It’s not clear and therefore will make you want to draw your own conclusion ….. then change your mind ten times in ten minutes.
I suppose someone much wiser than me will know who Cheap Suit is about; but I don’t …… (is he the Father to the Mother of North Coast Girl?) but this tragic tale is so excruciatingly extraordinary and Bayley’s use of the soft vibrato in his own voice, alongside some carefully selected instrumentation; beautifully captured for posterity, is quite easily my Favourite Song here by a million miles.
I have very little background information about KB Bayley; save he’s been a side-man to some of my favourite singer-songwriters over the years; but with this release I think those days are over ……. the spotlight surely beckons for a talent that has lain hidden for far too long.

*Son of Northumbria …… while he moved down South as a child and has spent a lot of time on the windswept Norfolk Coast; I’m still claiming him as ‘one of ours‘!!!

Released February 26th 2021
https://www.kbbayley.com/

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Alabama Slim THE PARLOR

Alabama Slim
The Parlor
Cornelius Chapel Records

A Refreshing Set of Modern Blues Originals Plus a Couple of Re-Worked Classics.

Here’s a question.
Just how many, genuine “Bluesmen” have gone through their whole musical lifetime without ever releasing a solo album?
Who knows? Not me; that’s for sure.
Thank goodness the Music Maker Relief Foundation teamed up with Cornelius Chapel Records to finally give octogenarian Alabama Slim aka Milton Frazier his opportunity.
The actual session took place 18 months ago in a New Orleans studio, called The Parlour. Slim, with his cousin and long-term best pal, guitarist Little Freddie King plus drummer Ardie Dean taking just 4 hours to lay down these 10 tracks.
Dean oversaw the production with the DBT’s Matt Patton plus Jimbo Mathus taking care of post-production, retrospectively adding bass and keys where required.

Born Milton Frazier in Vance, Alabama in March 1939, Slim fell in love with traditional Blues at an early age from his father’s collection of 78’s.
Moving to New Orleans in 1965, then onto Dallas after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he has now returned to the Crescent City. In fact, had it not been for this damned international pandemic he would have appeared (for the first time ever) at his adopted hometown’s Jazz and Heritage Festival last year.
Known as a lifelong dapper dresser, his attire always drew attention, the fact that he’s almost 7 foot tall also kinda helped him stand out in any crowd.

You should consider John Lee Hooker’s classic vocal sound as the template for Alabama Slim’s music, but it’s much, much more than a tribute to the 5 times Grammy winner.
Slim and Little Freddie’s dovetailing guitars interweave with Dean’s solid, driving beat.
Hot Foot” welcomes you to the album with a very positive call of ‘All-right’ and an up-beat twin guitar boogie which then leads into “Freddie’s VooDoo Boogie” where Little Freddie is the featured lead vocalist. “Rob Me Without a Gun” slows things down and has Jimbo Mathus’ restrained Hammond providing a much fuller and warmer sound.

Rock with Me Momma” has Slim pleading with his woman in the time honoured fashion and inviting her to a night of passion, which is then followed (optimistically) by “All Night Long!”
A moodier, less frenetic offering, where our main man is searching the streets with the roosters crowing, having the added benefit of some ivory twinkling from Jimbo.
Not the ‘other’ “Midnight Rider” but Slim’s own song of the same name again touches on more night time activities followed by a rousing version of the Blues classic “Rock Me Baby” continuing a similar, familiar theme of most of the earlier tracks.

The closing track is “Down in the Bottom” with stripped back vocals and those familiar twin guitars delivering a sultry and swampy sound, and the familiar JLH facsimile of “Someday Baby” certainly had my foot stomping too.
However, for me the standout track is the self-penned, politically charged number, entitled “Forty Jive” which could have been written by Tony Joe White, again reflecting the alligators and bayous of Louisiana.

In summary, Alabama Slim’s story is a vivid lesson of perseverance, resolutely sticking with the moaning and groaning of the Delta Blues that he heard in the 1940’s on his grand-parents farm, in the ‘Yellowhammer State’. The album is a delightful collection, consisting mostly of refreshing, modern originals that avoid being cliched, with just a couple of re-worked old blues classics that all fit superbly on the plate served up in The Parlor.

Jack Kidd “Messin’ with the Kidd” on lionheartradio.com

Released 22nd January 2021
https://musicmaker.org/artists/alabama-slim/#:~:text=Alabama%20Slim%20was%20born%20Milton,Bill%20Broonzy%20and%20Lightnin’%20Hopkins.

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Martin Stephenson PINK TANK

Martin Stephenson
Pink Tank
Barbaraville Records

A Re-Imagined Long Forgotten Album Brings Warmth and Beauty To 2020

For a variety of reasons; most notably Martin’s ‘one man band’ approach to everything these days, including PR; has meant that I’m late to the Pink Tank party; but as it’s going to be the perfect Christmas gift for the discerning music lover in your life …… maybe serendipity has played a part in my review going out a month after release after all.
I could be wrong, but MG Stephenson just may may be the most prolific of recording artists, and it’s been nigh on impossible to keep up with his releases over recent years; especially the last quarter century when he’s been free of record company shackles and he can now record and release albums on a whim …… and he has more whims than most.
Here, he has re-recorded the long forgotten AIRDRIE album in a more upbeat fashion; and has used modern technology to bring in other musicians recording remotely from all across the country into his makeshift studio in rural Scotland; where he has pieced everything together himself (don’t let that shambolic daft Uncle schtick he exudes fool you; he’s a bonafide genius!) and this is the spellbinding result.
As I’ve never heard AIRDRIE this is therefore a brand new collection of songs to me; yet when I first heard opening song, the rather lovely bouncy and beautiful Daffodil I was swept back to those heady days of his early Kitchenware releases with the Penny Daintees, and 2020 soon became a rather nice place to be in after all.
The winsome Nairn Beach follows, featuring some divine guitar and Martin’s soft Washingtonian tones never sounding more expressive or indeed; lovely. Even if this is the first of his songs someone ever heard; they would realise that this man genuinely transcends Folk Music in a way very few, if any of his generation ever managed.
For a songwriter so prolific; I’m stumped to think of a song that’s actually been a duffer over the years; you know ……. ‘filler’ ….. and that is still the case here, with songs like Light Step Travel, Steel String and the harmonica driven The Joy You Give being songs that would be outstanding highlights if released by any of the modern swathe of Boy Songwriters that are currently filling the Hit Parade, but on an album by Martin G Stephenson they just support songs, but are still destined to change people’s lives in one way or another.
While feted for his wicked sense of humour and brilliant comic timing on stage; Martin has an incredible sensitive side which comes through in his songs; which every now and again can send a shiver down your back when a story unfolds. I won’t spoil them in advance; but expect the Bluegrass influenced Hell’s Half Acre and then the Easy Road Home to have such an effect on you when you least expect it.
It was probably there in his younger days; but in recent years Martin has hidden a few ‘deep and meaningful’ songs onto his albums; and here one such is The Burning of Cathaidh, which is almost Gothic if not Celtic in origin; but Martin’s wonderful voice brings light and shade to a very, very sad song.
I have a feeling that’s going to a song I come back to many times in the future; but for now my selection of tracks for Favourite Song status is down to only two; Mountainous Spring, with it’s quirky Shadowsesque intro and the charming imagery it then conjures up; and Beautiful Judas when we are swept off up an Appalachian Mountain for three minutes of British Folk music that has elements of Bill Monroe, Ewan MacColl and even early Bob Dylan oozing out of every note, couplet and melody too.
Therefore Beautiful Judas is my Favourite Song here; and not only is it probably the finest song Martin has recorded this century; it’s well worthy of featuring on any prospective Best Of; and with his back catalogue ….. that’s quite the honour!

Released November 2020
https://daintees.co.uk/

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The Bills ‘TIL THE BLUES HAVE GONE

The Bills
‘Til The Blues Have Gone
Wheeling Records

Laid Back Sunday Blues For The Rest of The Week Too.

By nature I don’t like surprises; but hardly a day goes by when I hear an album that ‘surprises’ me; sometimes negatively (these are the ones that don’t get reviewed) then there are others that just ‘light up my life’ ….. and this is definitely one of those.
What first attracted me to this album was when the opening paragraph likened this duo to a band called The Junco Partners. Now; if you are under 50 and/or have never lived in the NE of England there’s a 99.9% chance you ain’t ever heard of the Juncos; but they are are bonafide Leg-ends in my stoming ground; and in the 1960’s my brother Brian actually occasionally roadied for them and then in the mid 1970’s they were first ‘real band’ I paid to see; and in one format or another they are still there or thereabouts in 2020.
So; that was high praise indeed.
The Bills?
Bill Booth and Bill Troiani are both American but have been maimstays of the Scandi Blues scene for a long long time; and after treading the boards together for 8 years together; this is their debut studio album.
Enough of the waffle!
The title track ‘Til The Blues Have Gone kicks things off with a charming laid back Blues shuffle; and a killer opening pair of lines;
The lights are on But nobody’s home
I sit alone like some sad song
.”
Of course the story is as sad as you’d expect; but the meliflous guitar playing and occasional violin interludes (not a fiddle imho) make for a toetapper that will stick in your craw all day long.
There is certainly a ‘sophisticated’ feel to these songs; with two warm, rich and evocative singing voices interplaying on stories like Driving Rain, Asking For More and Still Might Be Around which will appeal and even resonate with many listeners of a certain vintage.
It’s pretty obvious that The Bills have played together for a long time as they make everything sound so easy and simple on Sun Was Going Down, although we all know that’s never the case.
It’s a Blues album; so traditional Blues themes abound, and The Bills know their history but they aren’t stuck in the past, as they still manage to add a razor sharp edge to the likes of Keeping The Blues Alive, Good Lord Done Gone and Road is Long, which like so many others here benefit from the addition of Booth’s majesty on the fiddle (even though he sounds like a Classically trained violinist to me!).
For My Favourite Song I’m torn between the final two songs here (a case of keeping the very best for last?); with the raw Field-Country Blues of Grinnin’ in Your Face easily being my initial selection; partly because of some saccharine sweet slide guitar; but the more I’ve played it the dark and brooding finale; Didn’t Know What I Had, with its John Lee Hooker undertones has recently drawn me in like a moth to a flame; so there you have it, Didn’t Know What I Had is my Favourite Song.
Do they sound like the Junco Partners; not really but they certainly sound as if they could be from the same Father but a different Mother …… now there’s a Blues Song in the making!
‘TIL THE BLUES HAVE GONE is perfect Summer’s Sunday afternoon listening, so laid back it nearly falls over, and when played on a cold and damp November Tuesday or February Friday you will still feel that warm vibe; and that’s always a good thing.

Released November 16th 2020
https://www.thebills.no/bio

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Felix Hatfield FALSE GOD

Felix Hatfield
False God
Fangbite Records

Satirical and Raw Left of Centre Americana? This is the Real McCoy!

The first couple of times I played this album I only got as far as tracks #5 and #6 before I had to switch to something more ‘commercial’; but I also knew that when the mood took me, I would return and devour these songs like a starving wolf in mating season.
I have a penchant for husky voiced left of centre, singer-songwriters; probably starting when I discovered Randy Newman back in my teenage years; and since then Kinky Friedman, Malcolm Holcombe, Scott H Biram and a few others have given me great enjoyment in my darker moments.

I can now add Felix Hatfield, from Eugene Oregon to that list.
The quirky Jazz-Blues hybrid intro to Seeing Things certainly intrigued me; and when Hatfield’s charmingly grizzly voice crawled out of the speakers, I knew that this was going to be for me.
If you get to the end of the song unscathed; and ‘get’ the Leonard Cohen reference; then you are in for a bonafide musical treat thereafter.
Perhaps it’s a strange time to make a confession; but actual songwriting has always fascinated me ……. how does an imagination come up with Sick With The Flu, Train To London and Unicorn Woman?
Seriously?
I’m pretty sure Felix’s Music Teacher at High School would have dismissed these out of hand; but his quirky Jazz-Lite filtered through some New Orleans style arrangements actually combine to create moments of actual wonderment and joy for the listener.
It’s actually a bit of a surprise to hear actual ‘love songs’ here; but that’s what That Kiss, Unicorn Woman and I guess the duet with Jolie Holland, Walking Distance are; but not in an obvious way.
Stating with that theme; Hatfield appears to have been unlucky in love; but then again haven’t all the best songwriters?
The haunting trumpet in Nobody For Me adds extra pathos to Hatfield’s melancholic tale; and you can easily picture him sitting on a back porch picking at his banjo while desperately trying not to cry while softly wailing through Troubled Person.
One more song, in this vein is my joint Favourite Song here; and it’s also the finale. Targeting the ‘late night crowd’; of which I count myself a fully paid up member, Lucky To Be a Sad Man ……. and the title says it all really.
My other Favourite Song is also the most and possibly only commercial song here; and it’s the title track False God.
In the current political climate (and I’m writing this the weekend before the US Election 2020) it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out who the False God Hatfield is singing about …….. and as a razor-sharp observational songwriter he hits many, many nails squarely on the head …… just imagine if Randy Newman had wanted to write a satirical Country Song; well …… I guess it would sound a lot like this.
One more thing to show how good this album is; it has twice picked up her book and harrumphed her way into the conservatory when I’ve played it in the living room …… High Praise indeed 😉

Released 23rd October 2020
http://www.felixhatfield.com/

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Juanita Stein SNAPSHOT

JUANITA STEIN
Snapshot
Nude Records

Intimate Songs of Sadness Delivered Beautifully and Intricately.

A couple of years ago one of my favourite ‘intimate’ gigs was when I saw a Juanita Stein gig at The Cluny in Newcastle; and even stranger was the fact that it was her record that was being played on local radio as I parked my car that night.
The 4 Howling Bells albums made with Juanita and her twin brothers, Ari and Joel were all excellent indie releases and they had built up a solid following after re-locating to Brighton from Sydney; when in 2012 she started work on her first solo album before the release of ‘America’ and ‘Until The Lights Fade’.
To further demonstrate her ability she assisted with vocals on The Sleepy Jackson album – another very good offering IMHO.
Her latest release is heavily tinged with sadness after the sudden death of her father with AML but that sad event is now a taper to light her way through an album that she describes as ‘littered with symbolism’ as the songs featured are dashed on instant reflections – a dream of a relative, a crow outside a hospital room, a toy snake etc – all minor but the birth of an idea leading to a song.
Her very soft and gentle voice glides through the opener ‘1,2,3,4,5,6’ about the ability to take risks after due consideration of the effects of the decision. She admits that writing the songs for ‘Snapshot’ came thick and fast, leaving her with a load of demos to turn into the finished article.
The opening notes of ‘L.O.T.F’ take the listener straight into a catchy number dealing with ‘being raised in the land of the free and needing to hear the blackbirds‘. A bluesy rocky number with a tremendous guitar backing.
The tempo is eased off with ‘Lucky’ as she questions if she is mentally tough enough to deal with the changes in her life – ‘that’s your life as darkness is followed by rage’.
A shout from the heart of the situation she suddenly found herself in.
You are a snapshot of my life – only a photograph remains
in the title track where the loss is most vocally well handled.
Out of sadness comes some light, as part of a snapshot of her mind. ‘Hey Mama’ does what it says in the track as she ponders her search for how her Mama feels but maybe they can sing the blues together.
If I am giving the impression this album is a very sad one, I have to stress that it is, the overall theme of the album is sadness; but the songs are delivered with a beautiful voice and even I hadn’t really appreciated that voice until I saw her sing .
If you sound better or as good live as on record a gig goer can’t ask for any more than that.
A favourite track?
That would probably be ‘Mavericks’, a song that benefits from her full range and the following track ‘The Reckoning’ takes her into the upper reaches to emphasise that the reckoning is inevitable, with the heavy guitar backing adding to the importance of meeting ‘The Reckoning.’
The final tracks ‘Take It Or Leave It’ dealing with the choices you have in her position leaving you ‘dancing with the unknown’ and ‘In The End’, an upbeat finale that regardless of what fate deals us we have to not ‘lose our heart as we all lose someone in the end
I have to admit I am a lover of female singers; and Juanita has produced a lovely little set despite the sad events that brought it all about.
Out of that darkness has come what I feel is her best album to date, by some way.
A fine tribute to her father.
Juanita is assisted here by her brother Joel on lead guitar, Jim Wheelwright on bass and Evan Jenkins on drums and it would be wrong of me not to recognise their importance in getting the listener to take notice of the loss and to make sure of a better future.
The album was recorded over an 8 month period at Agricultural Audio near Brighton, although her previous albums were from USA studios.
The change was worthwhile.
Again, let me stress that although the grain of an idea began with sadness this is not a sad downbeat album. The theme is sad but the delivery of the whole package is the complete opposite.
Get those live gigs at The Cluny and invite her along asap.

Review: Bill Redhead

Released October 23rd 2020
https://www.juanitastein.com/
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