A day early and a brand new first half hour of music from I had planned; following events in ‘the other’ Washington* on Wednesday! I’ve included a couple of what I think are very apt songs for the current mood among ‘normal people’ and especially music lovers; not just in the USA but all around the world. Plus there are two Gateway songs; Rory Gallagher and the Groundhogs, which were cornerstones in my love affair with the Blues. What I want to get across with this feature is how music used to be a more considered affair; we had to plan buying LP’s weeks or months in advance plus, in the case of Blues Obituary by the Groundhogs, buy them second hand. It’s my personal opinion that the streaming services are culpable in ‘dumbing down’ music, by offering far too much choice ……. and usually for free, taking away any mystique or sense of ownership. Just a thought. BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
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The Rocking Magpie Radio Show Pt3 Top 10 North American Albums of 2020
Well; I’m getting there …… the new fangled faders, knobs and buttons are no longer scaring me in my shiny new Home Studio, so ……. cue drum roll ……… I now plan going ahead with a Weekly RMHQ Podcast, bringing you new tracks from albums we are reviewing and the occasional single that doesn’t get onto the site, alongside a few oldies from across the vast Americana Landscape that tickle my fancy. The one thing that I plan doing every week, will be bringing you ‘Gateway’ tracks and albums that took me away from Pop Music and into a much more grown up and thoughtful world ……. it’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure.
This Test episode is Part II of my own personal albums of 2020, this time it’s 11 (I know, I know) eclectic songs from ‘Game Changing’ albums that I can’t recommend highly enough .
Alt. Country Full Of Electric Tension and Bedazzling Lyrics.
If I’m totally honest, this album very nearly passed me by. As I keep whining RMHQ is becoming inundated with new releases and while that’s satisfying my ego; even with the aid of our new writers it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up; and I’m sure some diamonds are falling by the wayside. Thankfully the Press Agent dropped me a ‘reminder’ and I played this late one night travelling home from work …… and by track #6 the volume had been cranked up to 9! Not that this is a RAWK album by any means; but the songs just seemed to need to be played LOUD, which may be partly due to Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel’s mighty fine production. The opening ‘noise’ to first song Out of Control certainly captures the attention; then the following dark and eerie and coldly atmospheric Alt. Country tone setter, with it’s militaristic drum beat feels like an upper cut to the jaw; not quite enough to knock you out ….. but so powerful your legs will wobble. But, it’s as a wordsmith that Andrew Grimm really shines: “The boiling point has been reached and this snake must stop swallowing its own tail.” Next track, Uh Huh sounds slightly more up-tempo; but when it finally unravels (for me the third time I heard it) it too is a dark tale; and like the majority of what follows is a story taken from what Grimm has seen around him in America during 2020; and therefore precludes happy/clappy dance tunes! An electric tension sparks right throughout Lie Until It’s True; which is an insightful view of the current President of the USA (as of October 30th!) (*and the Prime Minister of the UK btw) ……. echoes of Neil Young and Crazy Horse abound in every chord and word. Remember I said he was a ‘wordsmith’? Check these lines out … “Desperation fuels defiance and the first act of revolution is naming the transgression, so there is no mistaking mistake when you are offered a lie as a truth.” I pray that there’s a DJ out there somewhere that has the testicles to play Money Is a Motherfucker one night! Again it sounds like something Neil would have recorded around Zuma; and sadly the sentiment herein was just as apt then as it is in 2020. Andrew can play a mean acoustic too; which compliments the intensity of The Machine in a rather bedazzling manner; even if I do say so, and the slower pace allows Grimm’s words to seep into your subconscious like a melodic fog. Although not evident the first time you play the title track, A Little Heat, subsequently you will find that the writer does believe that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’; just it’s a very long tunnel. I’m sticking this in the Alt. Country file; as it’s probably too dark and broody for yer normal Rock fans; especially the two tracks that I’m deciding between for the title of Favourite Song. The finale; Take Me To the Light; pays a homage to Lou Reed, as these words were the last he spoke; and while not exactly straying from his own ‘formula’ captures the spirit of Lou on this rather amazing and starkly beautiful song. The other; and song I’m probably erring towards is Don’t Die For Their Money as it really is a song for our times; and sadly a timeless one at that. Grimm somehow manages to capture the current zeitgeist in his prose; and yet again his poetic words are shrouded inside a very intense sound, that will send a shiver down the back of the unwary listener; as will the words when you take them out of their natural context; “Don’t die for their money, you’re better than that Tear down their temples, nothing burns like cash The way you’ve been talking, sounds like truth You light the match, and I’ll hold the fuse.” If you’ve lasted until the very end; and many won’t; you will be the type of music fan; like me who will subsequently be shouting Andrew Grimm’s name from the rooftop at every opportunity …… and that’s to the benefit of everyone who hears us.
*Andrew Grimm is the singer-songwriter behind the long-running Baltimore, Maryland band, June Star. The group formed in 1998, and over the last 20 years, he has been blurring country and rock and roll sounds while writing songs about love. Grimm is an English professor at McDaniel College (Westminster, MD), where he trains freshmen how to dig deeply into a text, pull it apart, understand it, and ultimately respond.
More Anger, But Maybe Some Hope Too For What Follows 2020.
Back in 2000 I was working as a sales rep for an independent record company. I loved it, as I got to hear so much great music. The strength of the company I worked for (Pinnacle Records-sadly no more) was that although we had huge chart topping acts we also had obscure acts being released on obscure labels, run by only one or maybe two people. One such label was Zane Records. They licensed a lot of American southern bands and artists and released them in the UK. One sales meeting they turned up with an album called PIZZA DELIVERANCE by THE DRIVE BY TRUCKERS. Straight away I thought, ‘hello, this sounds like my cup of tea‘ and after playing NINE BULLETS to the rep meeting my life was never the same again!
Fast forward to 2020 and we have a very angry Patterson Hood (main songwriter for Drive-By Truckers) continuing where he left off on the bands January 2020 release THE UNRAVELING (and the previous, AMERICAN BAND too btw). While the Truckers have mostly written about their own lives they have always had a political edge to them but this has become stronger and more potent the longer they go on. THE NEW OK isn’t as angry as that last album, but it’s very much part II and so continues in the same vein. The opener – and title track – is a mid tempo rocker talking about the demonstrations for BLM, anti police, covid etc, going on in his home town of Portland during this mad year. “We’ve lost our way, the new OK“ TOUGH TO LET GO follows with a slower pace and isn’t about the present climate but a heartbreak song about how hard it is to end something when you know it just isn’t working. THE UNRAVELING takes a leaf out of Led Zep’s book in that it wasn’t on the album of the same name (I.E. HOUSES OF THE HOLY) but musically is driven and quite punky. It’s lead vocal is one of two songs sung by bassist Matt Patton. The first song sung by neither Hood or Cooley since Shona Tucker took lead vocals on a couple of songs on 2008 release BRIGHTER THAN CREATIONS DARK. Next up, THE PERILOUS NIGHT is a new version of a song first released in 2016 to tie in with the US election that year. It was only released on 7 inch single at the time, so it’s nice to finally have it on my iPod. It’s quite clear to see where Hood sits with lyrics like “Dumb, white and angry with their cup half filled, Running over people down in Charlottesville. White House fury, it’s the killing side he defends“ Disappointing for me is that Mike Cooley only gets one song on the album; with SARAH’S FLAME being a slow electric piano led tune about Sarah Palin. It might seem odd to tie her to 2020 but Cooley is basically laying the start of the mess in America at her door and those like her. “She made it look so easy all Fat Donnie had to do was wear the pants“ SEA ISLAND LONELY is something a little different for DBT. While it has the sound you expect, the added horns give it a fantastic Stax sound. No real surprise considering Hood’s connection to that label and period through his dad and Muscle Shoals. Like most bands and musicians I guess DBT miss the days of getting on the van/plane and travelling to the next city to play the next gig. THE DISTANCE makes you realise we all miss bands touring. WATCHING THE ORANGE CLOUDS is probably the strongest song on here. More stories of what Portland has been like during the summer of 2020 and Patterson Hood personally struggled through what’s going on in his adopted town. “The voices that were hired to protect only betray you” and “Across the Burnside Bridge , There’s heads getting bashed and teargas. Boys too stupid to really be proud“. Finally maybe a little belief that things will get better…. “Hoping on day we’ll rise and move onto some better place. We can look back on the nightmares of this endless spring“. When the Truckers first started they were a punk band called Adams House Cat, and the closing song on here is a nod back to those glorious days; with a cover of THE KKK TOOK MY BABY AWAY. It’s a brilliant version – again sung by Matt Patton – and although it’s the Ramones through and through it surprisingly suits DBT really well. The Drive By Truckers have never released a weak album in my opinion and this surprise release is no different. As always, incredibly good lyrics and very strong songwriting make THE NEW OK probably the highlight of 2020.
Another Very Important Album For and About The Times We Find Ourselves In.
NB. I’ve only had this album for less than 24 hours and had to sandwich a shift at work in between listening in the car and once more earlier today; before Friday’s actual ‘download/streaming’ release ….. so this is very much ‘on the hoof’ …… but that’s proving an exciting challenge; but I’m probably going to miss some nuances in the songs – so forgive me.
With such a bonkers year as 2020 is/has been so far; it’s no real surprise that I’m being inundated with new and exciting albums that have been inspired by everything that’s happening around them. Patterson Hood the primary songwriter for Drive-By Truckers is certainly one writer who has a fire burning in his Soul at the moment! Back in January I said of THE UNRAVELING that it was “The Most Powerful and Important Rock & Roll Record of the Decade;” and I stand by that sentiment; but in the intervening 8 months the world; and especially America has been spun 359 Degrees upside down and backwards and forwards ….. which means that Hood just had to set pen to paper again! The title track THE NEW OK!; paraphrasing ‘The New Normal’ that someone coined to describe our lives post-Covid; but that day now seems s far away. It’s feisty, powerful and Hood’s bile occasionally boils over; but the Beach Boys style harmonies and melody amazingly mask all that so it just may turn up on National radio …… quite by accident. It’s no surprise that this is a very ‘angry album’ from start to finish, with the Truckers turning their amps up to 11; as they channel their Inner Clash on The Unravelling but it’s not all like that at all. To all intents and purposes THE NEW OK! is Americana at its most intense; but that just proves with The Distance, Sarah’s Flame and the imperious Sea Island Lonely, with its Stax-era horn section that you don’t always have to shout to be heard. Even by Drive-By Truckers standards there are three very, very important songs here and each tells its own story completely differently; yet all spark off each other on way or another. Watching The Orange Clouds, like the title track has a lovely melody masking some deeply incisive and razor-sharp lyrics around and about the protests that swept across America (and beyond) following George Floyd’s senseless murder. As I said earlier, this is being written as I listen; but even under those circumstances I knew immediatly that The Perilous Night is one of those songs that will stand loud and proud for decades to come ……. it’s frighteningly good and sadly all based on true events. Now, dear reader if the Drive-By Truckers were going to include a cover version on an album like this; what do you think it would or should be? Something from Woody? Dylan? Or maybe Neil Young? Don’t be silly ……… turn the dial up to 11 or maybe even 12 ……. The Truckers have only gone and covered The Ramones The KKK Took My Baby Away! Bassist Matt Patton provides punchy vocals and really does justice to this genuine Punk Classic; and who among us thought that in 2020 this song would still be relevent and even an anthem? Because of that, it’s my Favourite Track …… but that may change next week. I’ve got nothing left to say; THE NEW OK! stands shoulder to shoulder with its predecessor THE UNRAVELLING as ” Two of The Most Powerful and Important Rock & Roll Records of the Decade.“
TRACK LISTING: The New OK Tough To Let Go The Unraveling The Perilous Night Sarah’s Flame Sea Island Lonely The Distance Watching The Orange Clouds The KKK Took My Baby Away
Released October 2nd 2020 (CD & Vinyl 18th December)
A Sensitive and Powerful Collection of Perspectives on the Nature and Treatment of Refugees.
At the core of this release is probably the song which is least explicitly about refugees – “Humble;” nestled away three-quarters of the way through the album. Here, the album’s genesis lies within – suffering from a year long illness caused by a gas leak in her apartment, forced Diana Jones to realise that “Life made you humble – all the living and dying,” and faced with the media demonization of those who seek home and safety, arose the inspiration for the album. Jones’ survival instinct mirrors that of those who seek to escape war and to find peace and she speaks “to” them to address negative media portrayals. The album opens with the Marty Robbins feel of “El Chaparral” – but darker lyrically because of its current subject matter – about one of the key crossing points on the Mexican/American Border, where infants were forced into squalid conditions away from their families. Jones’ isn’t afraid to use pathos and personal stories to trigger an emotional response in the listener – the Scottish air of the title track “Song For a Refugee” doubles the emotional layers in musical mood and lyrics with its wish that “May you be happy and full and grow old” – a loving wish for safety, as “None of us know where our footsteps will fall”. “Where We Are” takes the voice of a dispossessed child with “Number 47 on my shirt, on my arm” and “Santiago”, with its plaintive fiddle explodes the stories that arise out of the small details of personal possessions. Elsewhere, Jones uses the voices of refugees – stories from her encounters and friends and from news coverage – “Mama Hold Your Baby” uses old time fiddle and banjo to recount Elizabeth Warren’s passed on tale of a Guatemalan mother who’d carried her baby to the border, reflecting both the horror and strength in such a story. “I Wait For You” and “The Life I Left Behind” both speak with the voice of the refugee looking back on their former home. In the former, it’s the tale of a Sudanese woman forced to marry at 13, who, having escaped is now waiting – and hoping – to be reunited with her children, whereas in the latter, the refugee in their new land looks back at the destruction of their place of origin with sadness – both songs united by a Joan Baez-like musical delivery. “The Sea Is My Mother” and “Love Song To a Bird” both take differing aspects of refugees at sea – in “The Sea Is My Mother” there’s a “Dream of peace and something more / waiting on a distant shore” and the path to that destination is the sacrifice of family. “ Love Song to a Bird” takes the detached view of the refugee boat from above and the distance amplifies the danger of the journey – musically in both lyrics are to the fore, with largely fingerpicked guitar leaving the lyrics out front. One of the more uptempo numbers is “Ask a Woman”, which befits the positivity that the song proposes – set to a gentle country “boom-chick” rhythm, the strength of mothers and women are held up as being worthy of inspiration – not criticism, “Ask a woman – with a child in her arms.” “We Believe You” – has been the lead out track to the album in the media and it contains a loud message about the importance of belief and empathy in the refugees’ stories. Steve Earle/Richard Thompson/Peggy Seeger all take turns on vocals -the symbolism being that it isn‘t just one person believing in their stories of why they are fleeing – but “we”. The repeated title becomes a mantra to consolidate that message – it’s going to be a festival rabble rouser for years to come. The album ends, quite fittingly with “The Last Words” – Diana Jones talks of the shared experience of refugees and non-refugees “The stillness and the shadows come to steal our loved ones away” – we all seek safety and home and the refugees message is a Universal Message – we want home, safety and all that comes with it. I’d vote for that. In this album, Diana Jones has taken what could have been a one issue topic and exploded it wide, exploring viewpoints and narratives in and around the issue of refugees and putting the lyricism and poetry of those stories to the fore.
Mickelson Drowning In An Inflatable Pool Independent
Sex Pistols Influenced Angry Folk Rock For a Trumpian Society?
I’ve always been that guy ‘forever on the search for something new’, to hear something previously unknown to my ears, and then be totally blown away by it. Sadly, this doesn’t happen enough, in my opinion. In the past it was learning of a band mentioned by a musician in an interview: “Wait, who’s that they’re talking about? Then searching the record stores until you find it. Or seeing an unknown opening act that totally blows away the headliner. Sometimes it was coming across an album with an interesting cover image and buying it based on that alone. Crazy – I know; but fun though. Nowadays, it’s being asked to listen to an album in order to write a review of it—and every now and then, one of those albums hits you just right and you listen to it more times than you really need to, in order to give it a write up. (#We call that – playing an album for fun! Ed) I’d never heard of the artist who goes by the name of Mickelson before, but I am now gleefully jumping into his back catalog, looking for more gems. With Mickelson’s baritone voice, no-nonsense attitude, and fearless songwriting, this album is a definite contender for the soundtrack to an off-Broadway play about the dissolving of society amidst totalitarian regimes. Mickelson himself claims this album is a response to the Trump era of American politics, and yes, I can hear that, but for me this album comes off as less of a folk-rock protest (ala Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, etc.) and (bizarrely) more like the Sex Pistols with their songs “Problems” or “Holidays in the Sun” in that Mickelson acknowledges there’s a problem, yet he’s unsure of the answers to those problems, but he does know that he can not continue on the way things are currently going, as his world is tail-spinning relentlessly out of control, and his mind is going with it. So he might as well hoot and holler all the way down. The Mekons, Straight Line Arrival, Pere Ubu, Jimmy Cliff, John Murry, and more have all gone down this route, so Mickelson is in damn fine company here. The ear worm opening track, “Jagged Tooth,” hits the road running, like a man thrown out of a moving car; no time to look back at broken promises or who’s closing in, you just keep on running. “I was doing my best to tell you the truth, but every time, cut my tongue on this jagged tooth,” he declares, not really apologizing, just laying it out. “Just the facts, ma’am.” This feeling continues on throughout the entire album, a miasma of relentlessness and many nights of restless sleep, a barely remembered dream nagging at the back of your skull as you run scared through the daylight hours, waiting for night and a chance to hide your head, until you can do it all over again. “No Translation for No,” “Odd Man Out,” “Drowning In An Inflatable Pool,” “The Lockdown,”are the song titles themselves and read like chapter titles in a book of dark speculative fiction by Harlan Ellison or Kelly Link, daring you to not look away until they’ve burned themselves into your soul. I’m also really digging the next to last tune, “Only the Wicked Run,” which features a more pared down production, mostly banjo and voice. He Mickelson’s tired of running; yet still keeping his eyes peeled for an escape route—Hell, ANY escape route! It’s the last song here, a recorded live warts and all track called “Flickering,” which utilizes all the disparate ingredients from the previous seven songs and makes them work admirably. A showcase for Mickelson to prove he can successfully pull off this album live, or a last minute addition that just had to be on here, no matter what? Either way, it fits, the banjo being the engine that keeps the whole thing moving, the horn blasts punctuating throughout, Mickelson’s voice like a more mid-western Springsteen, and I swear I hear more than just a smattering of “modern country singer” in Mickelson’s style of vocal delivery. Dwight Yoakum on punk steroids? Brad Paisley sitting in with the Who? (Yeah, I really am that damn crazy.) Mickelson pleads and wails his way through the song while the rhythm section clears his path. I’m digging the choice of harmonica, horns, and banjo on several of these tunes. Who needs over saturated and fey guitar solos when you have so many more choices out there? Not Mickelson, fearless, feral, headstrong, and ready to gnaw off his own foot if that’s what it takes to make a statement worthy of your attention. And hey, if that’s too gory for you, check out the music video for the song “Jagged Tooth” with charming animation by Nemo ……. Mickelson’s head is in a jar, singing and playing harmonica with a kick ass band. Strange, yes, but somehow all that works to his advantage and makes him a bit more approachable. Yeah, he’s serious about his songs, which are his messages to us through the ether, but he’s winking back at us at the same time. We’re all in this together, so we might as well have some fun while we can.
Review courtesy The Legendary Roy Peak. Released US July 24th 2020 Released Europe 15th August 2020