Highly Talented and Americana Influenced British Bedsit Country-Folk.
This is odd; I was 99% sure I’d reviewed Jane’s album Just Another Girl, but can’t find it in our archives …… oops, if I didn’t! Whatever; that was the past and LIKE MAGDALENE is not just the present; but in some ways the future too. For the uninitiated this young lady from the rather lovely town of Aberystwyth in Wales; seamlessly and charmingly straddles the Folk and Americana spheres with ease, with barely a trace of her natural accent in her singing voice; which will surely give songs like the torrid and dour opener Don’t Spill The Water; which has more than a hint of Rust Belt Americana to it; most especially in the breathy and breathless chorus; making it ideal for Roots Radio everywhere. Like so few of her peers; Jane isn’t afraid to wear her influences on her sleeve; with the emotional Shower of Stars and Kiss of Peace sounding uncannily like adaptations of something Leonard, Joni or RMHQ Favourite, Gretchen Peters may have written; but not actually released ….. but; no … these are from the pen of Ms. Allison herself. Alonza Bevan’s production make’s Jane’s crystal clear voice and fascinating songs shine throughout; dipping in and out of 60’s bedsit melancholia that relationships of all types can bring; with ease on If I Was Famous, Banks of the Landwehrkanal and Summer Wind; but never allowing this album to sound even the merest hint of depressing; these songs will appeal to anyone and everyone who knows what ‘darkness’ feels like; but there will always be light at the end of that particular tunnel; and here it’s in the shape of the powerful title track Like Magdalene, the delightful Shower of Stars and especially High Road (when the shadow of Joni circa Blue encapsulates every word). Then, there is one other song that captured not just my imagination when I first heard it; but my heart too. It’s been a tough old 18 months for everyone; and I’ve not been immune to my own ‘black clouds’ especially recently; and while I’ve tried to blank them out somewhat with Tamla Motown and/or loud Indie Music; nothing speaks to more than a song from someone who ‘has been there’ and I can only presume Jane Allison has; as Frayed with its massive peaks and troughs will touch many another soul as it has mine; therefore making it my Favourite Song on a rather exceptional album. I guess if I were to ‘pick at the seams’ I would hear the Celtic influences of Jane’s roots; but to me this is quite simply as good British take on ‘Americana’ (which knows no boundaries!) as I’ve heard in years; in fact it’s so damn good, you would be mistaken for thinking Jane Allison was Canadian!
A History Lesson from the West Virginia Coalfields That Needs To Be Heard By the Nation At Large.
As the last child of a generation of Coal and Tin Miners I’m a sucker for a song about the coalfields, be that my local community in the NE of England or further afield in Nottinghamshire or even Olde Americae. This particular group of songs and stories come from a tiny spec in West Virginia called Fayette County; that 99% of Virginians couldn’t find on a map ……. but need to be told for the generations that follow. Even the background to the original concept is fascinating; with an old Coal Mining store being bought and restored to become a museum; only for ex-employees to make pilgrimages and tell their own dark and torrid tales, “These stories from the Whipple Company Store and similarly bleak recollections of coal mining and railroading life from other parts of West Virginia have been suppressed for too long. At first, the people themselves kept silent and hid the stories out of fear and indignity. When they finally shared their tales, their validity was often doubted, shaming them into believing that silence may have been the better choice. And now the people who shared these stories are gone. It is up to us to remember and continue sharing our history from the perspective of the people who lived it.“
The album begins with Don Dixon talking about the mining community and how these stories have been passed down orally from Father to son and Mother to daughter for well over a century. The rest of the album is West Virginian Folk Singer Mary Hott and a band of musicians who sound like they too ‘feel’ each and every one of these songs in their hearts …. and their scarred lungs. The first song is They Built a Railroad; and proves to be a sad cornerstone for all that is too follow; with the now, romanticised Railway bringing workers in and then take the coal out ……. but the thread that weaves throughout is the way the workers were horrendously treated; most especially when they tried to form a fledgling Trades Union and make their working conditions slightly better. “Our ancient hills held a rich man’s treasure, They carried workers from Ellis Island. They brought freed slaves to work the mines. They trafficked girls for comfort and pleasure. Total power over humankind.” Powerful stuff indeed. Then there is Annabel Lee, which follows; and this particularly dark tale of a beauteous young woman who is brought in to town; to ‘bring pleasure to the men’ ……. if your heart doesn’t cry out by the last verse; you’re reading the wrong review. The emotion in Mary Hott’s voice, as she sings her songs is a genuine 8th Wonder of the World; as she has the capacity to go from passionate Honky-Tonker/Murder Ballad one minute, The Spot then grab your heart the next; squeezing out sparks the next with Devil in The Hills; then follow that up with the Gospel Infused Rise Up WV; which mentions all of the creeds and colours that were brought in not just from across the State but the Country to work the mine; and still make them all sound like a cohesive story; and never patronising the listener. A rather fabulous album comes to a natural close; with Mary slowing things down quite beautifully with the traditional Gospel Ballad, Life’s Railway to Heaven and finally slow and heartfelt version of Take Me Home Country Roads; which couldn’t be any more fitting. Which only leaves me to select a Favourite Song; which is hardly fair …… but the two songs/tracks that jumped into my head last night were the haunting 48 seconds of Blair Mountain Ballad, which will send a shiver down your back; and then, there is Room of Lost Souls which ….. well …… honestly; this raw tale of a miner who first goes down the pit as an 8 year old then eventually dies when his son is the exact same age; and the circle goes on ……. and sounds like a long lost Bobbie Gentry song; and if it was it would be heralded from the Rolling Stone rafters. As well as a bunch of amazing yet horrendous songs; wonderfully created and constructed you also get a booklet that details the background (and more) to each and every story …… and this alone should be available in every school across America ……. this is your History; don’t forget it….. like the Authorities want.
File Under: Classy and Classic Modern Americana/Country-Rock With West Coast Overtones and Folk Undertones
We’ve been late to the party with Ted Russell Kamp; only discovering his multi-talents and great voice three years ago with his 11th solo album, WALKIN’ SHOES, which we loved to bits; as we did with the follow up, in 2020 DOWN IN THE DEN …… and without spoiling your surprise; SOLITAIRE is very much in the same laid back, West Coast Country Rock Singer-Songwriter vein and it’s held a special place lately in the Magmobile on weekend journeys around the highways and by-ways of the Kingdom of Northumbria. Opening track My Girl Now is real toe-tapper and actually a bit faster than you think it is ….. try singing along ….. it’s nearly impossible without gasping for breath half way through. Kamp’s slightly raspy voice is almost perfect for this tale of winning a heart after a long and troubled courtship of sorts …… and very much sets the tone for what is to follow. Probably best known as the bass player in Shooter Jennings’ Band; Ted is also a Producer of some repute too; but IMHO he is also one of the finest songwriters in the idiom as I’ve heard since the heydays of Country Rock in the 1970’s. . Birds That Sing at Dawn finds Kamp’s already husky voice dropping down a key or two as he sings about a beautiful if flawed love affair……. ‘the one that got away’ ….. and I bet you don’t pout; as I did the first time you hear the chorus; “I’ll just sit here drinking whisky Waiting for the birds that sing at dawn.” Like so many other songwriters; these songs came to Kamp as he was housebound during Lockdown I in 2020; and there’s a claustrophobic feel to a couple because of that; Be Your Man and Exception to The Rule are prime examples; with sparse arrangements that enable the singer to sound as profound and heartbroken as music allows. While most of these songs are from the Country Love Song playbook; i.e. lost love and broken hearts are the threads that hold everything together; what else would you expect from titles like Only a Broken Heart and/or A Rose or Two? and they both live up to the billing; but don’t worry …… Ted Russell Kamp has a special way with his words and arrangements that will tug at your heartstrings while still allowing you a ‘knowing smile’ at the same time …. the intricate title track Solitaire, being the type of song we’d normally associate with someone like JJ Cale and again later on The Spark too. We need to go back to the beginning for my Favourite Song on this rather fine album; and even then it’s a coin toss between two …… the intricate and articulate Path of Least Resistance being ‘one of those songs’ where I’ve been left thinking ‘where did that come from’? The use of imagery and metaphor is simply outstanding; more so from someone best known as a side-kick!! The other follows immediatly after and is by far the most up-tempo track here; bordering on actual Country Rock and if you were to hear it on the radio you would presume it was a killer tune from Poco or The Eagles or maybe even The Pure Prairie League; but no sirree You Can Go To Hell; I’m Going to Texas is 100% Ted Russell Kamp and you need to hear this song ASAP. One of music’s problems these days is that too many musicians get pigeonholed for lazy fans on streaming sites; which has to be a dilemma for someone like Ted Russell Kamp as I doubt there’s a genre called Classy and Classic Modern Americana/Country-Rock With West Coast Overtones and Roadhouse Undertones ….. but I could be wrong of course.
Who knows where the time goes …. 5 months and 21 Music hours; phew. This week features our friend Bobbo Byrnes talking about his Gateway Record; which for the second week running was something I’d never heard before ….. which is what this is all about. Apart from that I’ve delved deep into my own collection for everything else; so …. nothing new this week, just me being self-indulgent.
Laid Back and Easy Going Americana With Deceptively Killer Lines and Hooks.
As I’ve said many times over the years; “If I was aimlessly flicking through the racks of a record shop and stumbled on this; the cover alone would grab my attention and lead me to asking the person behind the counter if I could hear a couple of tracks.” (Remember those days kids?) The cool pic of a handsome young man in a Rough Rider jacket, looking straight at you, effortlessly leads you into the the laid back and easy going songs that follow …….. but; in the best TV Detective manner; there’s a glint in them there eyes that hides the fact that he’s more than capable of delivering a killer line or couplet when you’re least expecting it. To begin with, the title track When We Wander gently squeezes your heart until you can’t breathe for fear of missing a note or sepia tinged image …… phwoar! Jesse Terry has a such a lovely and yet deceptive voice that you would be forgiven for putting this album on as ‘background music’ ….. but; trust me here …… something will catch your ear and you won’t be able to stop yourself jumping up and taking said song back to the beginning; be it the sumptuously reflective Hymn of a Summer Night, the Honky Tonk delights of Pretty Good Hand or even the bittersweet love song, In Spite of You; all have something that will pique your interest and maybe even look back on your own life. Seven albums in and 150+ shows a year don’t necessarily make for an apprenticeship that makes a songwriter this good; but Jesse Terry uses every single experience in his life to create his Art; and in many ways his songs are Art. Our new friend Neilson Hubbard’s gentle production gives this a bit of a West Coast/Laurel Canyon vibe; with Ghost Stories and the punchy Little Fires sounding as if Terry had overdosed on Jackson Browne and David Gates for 72 hours solid and wanted to tip his hat in that direction; and the world is a better place for it. While a wholly gorgeous and slightly edgy album from start to finish; on any other album the title track would be my Favourite Track; no question but such is the quality and class on offer it doesn’t even make the Top 3! Little Fires, with its searing pedal-steel spine, has an easy going melody that lulls you in until the story unravels and you find you unconsciously have a tear in the corner of each eye and your bottom lip is puffed up ….. yup; it’s a bonafide heartbreaker. Jesse Terry can also Rock It Up when he wants to too; and the powerful Hanging the Stars effortlessly straddles Classic Country Rock and the new fangled Alt. Country with ease and is just perfect for the radio on a hot and stifling Saturday night. Then, there is the overall winner …….. cue drum roll …… the Springsteen inspired Strangers In Our Town. Like all great songs it will appeal to listeners on different levels; but to me this claustrophobic love song had me looking at Mrs. Magpie and thinking; ‘come on ……. let’s us be strangers in our town‘ i.e. let’s look at our lives from a whole new angle … we’re never too old to Rock & Roll; are we? All that’s left for me to say is to tell you about the Press Release; as is my won’t I skimmed down to see if my name was included (it isn’t) and then I saw a quote from a radio DJ. Mercifully for once it wasn’t Bob Harris; but someone you’ve never heard of but has been a huge influence on my listening taste and hopefully broadcasting skills over the las 50 years ……. one Paddy MacDee from my local BBC Radio Newcastle. At one stage Paddy had three very different shows running 7 days a week and wholeheartedly supported ‘proper music’ and especially the local scene, not just on radio but turning up to gigs on his nights off too. So; if Jesse Terry is good enough for Paddy MacDee, he’s certainly good enough for the likes of me and you!!
It’s that time of the week again …. MUSIC HOUR TIME! It’s another eclectic mix of old, new, borrowed and Bluesy …… with a great and slightly surprising Gateway Song from Martin Stephenson; plus brand new tracks from fellow Geordies Shipcote and Paul Handyside; plus Dust Radio alongside Classics and rarities from the great and the good across Roots Music. Twenty shows in and we still haven’t played the same song twice ….. and nor will we.
A Pandora’s Box of Americana Introspective and Imagination.
I forget when I first encountered Annie Keating; perhaps at a gig or most likely via the album FOR KEEPS that I reviewed for Maverick Magazine; but it’s fair to say she has accompanied me on many of my darker moments over the last few years …… and she didn’t even know it. Music touches people in a million different ways of course; and while you’d not think of Ms Keating as a purveyor of ‘sad songs’ (she isn’t) but she can not just tell but sell a ‘sad song’ and make it sound ever so personal to the person on the other end of radio tubes. Here; the opening track Third Street took me by surprise the first time I heard it as it’s a lot ‘heavier’ than I’d expected …… in a damn good way too; as the Bass pushes down on your chest as the swirling electric piano sounds like the wheels are coming off and then, on top of that, Annie spits out her weary tale with a squint in her eyes …… I can only dream that one day you will idly be driving along in your car and this comes on the radio! Like most every singer-songwriter these days; Annie used the claustrophobic time enforced on her and her family during the recent Pandemic to write …… and write she has; as this album has 15 tracks on it; and not a single note or word should be edited out. While tucked away in the family home Annie has been forced to delve deep into her imagination; and once that Pandora’s Box was opened the likes of High Tide, Marigold, Shades of Blue and the enigmatically titled Bittersweet sound like they must have poured out in the middle of the night and into the daybreak with only coffee as a friend. There’s a clever mix of light and shade across these songs; with many coming from Annie and her Band; but then of course she decides to dip back into solo singer-songwriter mode for the brittle and bewitching Song For a Friend and Half Mast too. While Annie has always been a sharp and canny songwriter; there’s a feeling of maturity and even sageness that comes with ageing across this album; and which makes choosing a singular Favourite Song excruciatingly difficult …… but that also meant I had to play it an extra couple of times to help decide; which was no hardship whatsoever. Eventually I’ve narrowed it down to three very different tracks; Track #2 Kindred Spirit sounds like the type of song Lucinda has been trying to write this last 15 years or so; and the cracked world of the love lorn is a lot better place for Annie actually doing so; here’s the opening verse …….: “There’s a Grace in the way you walk/a lazy kind of way you talk I like the way my name rolls off your tongue There’s a sadness about where you’ve been/I feel it coming off your skin A look behind your eyes like you’ve been stung.“
Good? Huh? The metaphoric Lucky 13 on the other hand, opens with a beautiful guitar solo; and eventually Annie slurring the chorus will make you clench your teeth and hope for a happy/happier ending; “Slot machines, Kings and Queens / I’m betting on Lucky 13 Just what you like/a little thrill ride/ losing inhibitions by midnight.” will she have the happy ending she craves? Only keen eared listeners will ever know. Tucked away in the middle is the charming Doris; a gorgeous introspective tale of a strong woman who arrived in America circa 1959, drinks Johnnie Walker red – straight, smoked a Dunhill pipe, and is now 83 and getting younger every day. Doris just happens to be Annie’s Mother btw. Americana/Folk Music at its very best methinks. Then’ of course there is the slow and seedy Hank’s Saloon …….. imagine, if you will Bruce and Lucinda being locked in a Motel room with no air con and not being allowed out until they had written a bonafide Hit Country Song for George Jones …… then it might sound a bit like this. Not an easy choice; but Hell ……. Hank’s Saloon has to be my Favourite …… it’s cooler than a penguins bum! After 7 previous albums it’s probably unfair of my to still compare Annie Keating to anyone else; but I feel that’s the best way I can to explain the high quality of not just the songwriting here; but the consummate light and shade in the way Annie has constructed and helped produce these songs ………. there’s a lot to appreciate here; but most of all BRISTOL COUNTY TIDES is an album from an artist at the top of her game and something you can allow yourself to settle back and just wallow in.
Rod Picott Wood, Steel, Dust and Dreams Self-Released
A Veritable Smorgasbord of Newly Re-Recorded Cleaves/Picott Co-Writes
Aimed squarely and unashamedly at die-hard fans, this 1000 physical double CD only limited release is not going to be streamed; so as Rod himself says –“It’s a collector’s edition. I’m thinking of it as a run of folk art prints. This album is for the folks who have sustained me over the years and want to help get me to the other side of 2020.” The thinking behind the album was to bring together in one place all of the songs co-written by Rod and long time friend and musical accomplice Slaid Cleaves. It turns out that both had had a similar idea to produce such a project, but it was Picott who got to it first, with Slaid’s blessing. Over two CDs there are 26 tracks – some released by Picott, some by Cleaves, some by both and some never released at all; but everything here is a brand new recording though. The liner booklet provides copious notes on each track so it defeats the object in a review to repeat the information contained therein – how does it stand up as a body of musical work therefore? Well, it’s very good indeed. Being recorded as one project, there’s a consistency and warmth about the whole sound, glued together admirably by producer Neilson Hubbard. My first reference point when listening were the tracks I knew, to see how they compared with versions that I’d already heard. “Broke Down” was my point of entry and it’s a gorgeous take – Rod’s voice is more upfront and mellow and the lack of drums and addition of gentle harmonica fit the mis-en-scene of the song’s sentiment(s). Conversely, “Bring It On” is a harsher, rougher take with gritty Twang and a more anguished vocal – “Sinner’s Prayer” has more of a darker, apocalyptic edge too, now. Throughout the superb notes that accompany the release, there are explanations as to how these versions – and others found their shape; and it’s a fascinating read. Instrumentation is generally sparse and supportive but tender, acting as an appropriate counterpoint to what are (to these ears) Rod’s finest recorded vocal performances. “Beyond Love” is nearly all vocal, punctuated by lonely guitar and it’s something that Leonard Cohen would have prodded you with a sharp object to get his hands on. Of the songs I was less familiar with (or hadn’t heard before in any form) “Sparrow;” about the effect of the death of Rod’s mother, is tender sentiment without sentimentality, sung from deep down and sounding far away and yet close. “Fire Inside” from “Out Past the Wires” now becomes a Springsteen Nebraskaesque howl of raw emotion. The one track on the release which is not a co-write is “The ballad of the Magic Rats”, the story of the band that Rod and Slaid played in as teenagers, and ties the whole musical and thematic package together quite perfectly. If you’re one of the die-hard fans that this double CD is aimed at, you’ll love the insights to the songs, but most of all you’ll love the performances; this is the closest I’ve heard to encapsulating the essence of Rod Picott as I’ve heard him on stage and in person. You’ll need to hurry though, because as soon as word gets round, the 1000 copies will be gone. Make damn sure you get yours.
Produced and Mixed by Neilson Hubbard Recorded by Rod Picott and Neilson Hubbard Guitar : Will Kimbrough Acoustic Slide Guitar : Matt Mauch Mandolin and Bass : Lex Price Percussion : Neilson Hubbard Harmonies : Neilson Hubbard and Matt Mauch Harmony on “Bring It On” : Slaid Cleaves Mastered by Alex McCollough Guitar, Vocals, Harmonica : Rod Picott