Big Jack Johnson STRIPPED DOWN MEMPHIS (with Kim Wilson & Wild Child Butler)

Big Jack Johnson
Stripped Down Memphis
MC Records

Red Raw, Timelessly Emotional Acoustic Country-Blues

I seem to be subconsciously steeped in the Blues at the moment; and as you’d expect no two albums are even remotely the same ….. ‘cos that’s how the Blues is.
This is a new name to me; Big Jack Johnson; but his guests on the two sessions are very nearly ‘household names’ … Kim Wilson and Wild Child Butler, so I had to give it at least one play.
The Wild Child Butler 1998 session has never seen the light of day before; and the Kim Wilson tracks from 2000 are unreleased too; making this album all the more exciting for that snippet of news.
Forget the dates though; this type of red raw and emotional acoustic Blues could have been recorded at any time in over 100 years yet still sounds fresh and dangerously exciting today in 2022.
The ‘live from the floor’ recording starts with Baby What You Want Me To Do and the scene is undoubtedly set; with Johnson reaching into his hearts darkest abyss as he struggles to keep a relationship alive, while his ‘chunka-chunka’ guitar playing accompanies some staggering mouth-harp that wouldn’t be out of place at a funeral.
The mood lightens slightly with the riff-tastic Run Blues Run and Johnson’s gruff world weary vocals sound like he has just gone straight from the plantation and into a recording studio.
Aching All Over starts with Wild Child Butler actually chatting in the studio about ‘having his wings clipped’ then gliding seamlessly into a mournful guitar/harmonica heartbreaker; the likes of which I would normally associate with very early John Lee Hooker.
As you can tell; there aren’t many laughs here nor is this likely to even accidentally turn up inj the Easy Listening section of a record shop; but that’s not the point; is it?
Songs like See Me Coming with Wild Child on vocals and Part Time Love are ‘everyman’ songs, that will squeeze your heartstrings until you can’t hardly breathe; but you will turn to them several times in the future because Johnson just might be singing about you and your feelings.
There is a small amount of ‘light’ to balance the various shades ‘darkness’ here; with a stomping version of The Hucklebuck nearly outdoing The Hully Gully Twist in the way Johnson and friends can change the mood on a sixpence!
While I’m not totally sure of the origin of the story in Going To Norway; the chorus and melody actually had me tapping my toes right from the git go; which I wasn’t expecting; therefore I’m making this my Favourite Song on a rather special album.
Big Jack Johnson is a brand new name to me; and one that has made me research his back story and back catalogue; which shows the effect these songs have had on me.

Released 20th May 2022
https://msbluestrail.org/blues-trail-markers/big-jack-johnson

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://shop.mc-records.com/products



Mike Stevens BREATHE IN THE WORLD, BREATHE OUT MUSIC

Mike Stevens
BREATHE IN THE WORLD, BREATHE OUT MUSIC
Stony Plain Records

Groundbreaking, Genre-Bending and Mind Blowing Harmonica Led Roots Music

It’s not unknown for me to receive albums to review from two different sources; but three???
That’s what happened here; and although I’d never heard of ‘legendary Canadian harmonica player’ Mike Stevens; the thought of three trusted PR companies seeking my opinion certainly piqued my attention a month or so ago.
Opening track Like a Bird is a deceptively sweet soft shoe shuffle; featuring a wonderful vocal performance from Polly Harris (and eventually a ‘choir of Angels’ on the fade). There’s a whole lot going on behind her singing; not least my introduction to Stevens’ fascinating harmonica playing ….. which is as complicated as it is listenable btw.
The temperature is raised when that is followed by Watermelon Pie; a Country-Blues instrumental where Stevens and his harmonica battle it out with Kevin Breid on electric guitar (and slide too!), and the result is nearly epic!
I have a harmonica playing friend; Martin Fletcher who trod the boards for many years with a variety of succesful Blues Bands until he felt restricted by the genre and began making ever more ‘progressive’ music with this under-regarded instrument ….. to ever shrinking audiences.
Mike Stevens is of a similar ilk it appears; using his harmonica in a huge variety of styles that many wouldn’t think suited to it; but in these capable hands (and lips!) works perfectly well.
Our man takes Orange Blossom Special and turns it into something very nearly Avant Garde! To paraphrase Eric Morecambe; ‘All of the notes are ….. just not necessarily in the right order!’ and again, the result is fabulous …… as it is with the mournful The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which immediatly follows too.
I’ve been a fan of the harmonica since I was a teen and have been drawn to albums simply because that instrument was featured (plus I own 3 VA Harmonica albums that are virtually unlistenable!) but I’ve never heard anyone like Mike Stevens; who takes this tiny musical instrument to new and even dangerous heights on the innovative Put The Phone Down, Devil’s Bride and the sultry Blues Rock ballad, Livin’ in Sarnia which also features Cory James Mitchell on vocals.
Does the world need another version of Amazing Grace?
If you’d asked me four weeks ago I’d have said NO ….. but the way Mike Stevens disembowels the melody then puts it back together again is truly staggering and extraordinary in every way.
In some ways I could have stuck a pin into the track listing to select a Favourite; but putting some thought into the process I’ve narrowed it down to two songs; both of which feature Mike on vocals as well as said harmonica.
Bad In a Good Way is almost Jazz Like in construction; with Kevin Breit providing some organ licks that would have done Blue Note Records proud back in ‘the day’.
The other which just might tip the balance to be the Winner is Devil’s Pride; where Stevens takes us on a darkly intimidating walk down a path that even Tom Waits would think twice about entering ….. and the result; not for the first time here is quite extraordinary.
For a man who, over 35 years in the business has released and featured on too many albums to count; played the Opry over 300 times, won numerous Awards (Canadian and American) and even set up the ArtsCan Charity ….. surely this album is really groundbreaking and will now introduce him to a new audience around the world.

Released May 20th 2022
https://mikestevensmusic.com/mike
https://mikestevensmusic.com/artscan-circle

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://stonyplainrecords.com/mikestevens/



David Olney EVERMORE (Live in Holland)

David Olney
EVERMORE (Live in Holland)
Strictly Country Records

While We Await a Long Overdue Retrospective This Live Recording will More Than Suffice.

Oh man! It genuinely broke my heart when I heard the news that David Olney had died on stage in early 2020.
I came late to the party; only discovering his immense talent with the WHEN THE DEAL GOES DOWN in 2014; and only ever got to see him play live (alongside Sergio Webb) at a cruelly under attended venue the following year …. but he’s right up there in my Top 10 of singer-songwriters; and ahead of many household names!
One of the key things I love about Olney’s work is that it’s eclectic; which is the best way to introduce this 7th album in a series of 8 live albums recorded in Holland in 2016, by Pieter Groenveld, Founder of Strictly Country Records.
The opening track the captivation Big Top is less a song and more a Talking Blues or even a poem set to music, with delicate bass from Daniel Seymour and a harsh harmonica accompaniment from David as he tells a dark tale that may or may not be a metaphor for the political leanings of the USA around that time ….. or just a plain and simple exotic story of a Circus on tour!
You decide.
As the track fades to a close you hear a few seconds of applause before the first of the ‘real’ songs; Train Wreck kicks in; featuring David pretending to be a train and his relationship being a ‘train wreck’ but he loves her anyway.
The quality of Groeneveld’s production is so sharp you’d be forgiven for not realising that this is actually a ‘Live Recording’ and the lack of applause makes this even more of a ‘keeper’ as usually with live albums the stories between tracks can quickly become boring; although Olney’s stories are/were actually fabulous … but you get my point?
Personally I only recognised a couple of Olney’s songs here; with quite a few being dusted off from his earlier releases; Always a Stranger/I Miss Someone, Thing Of Beauty and a personal favourite of mine; A Dangerous Man, which does start with David eloquently explaining that the song is about T.E Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia; which I don’t think I previously knew.
So it’s been a beautiful few days of discovery with the staggeringly beautiful Take Me With You (When You’re Gone); the prescient Always a Stranger a Refugee and the stunning co-write with RMHQ favourite Kim Richey; Love Is being new to my ears, but now carefully put away for a day when I simply need to hear them again.
As always; David casually drops in some covers to his set; some more obvious than others of course; with no surprises that the set closes with his version of Townes Van Zandt’s For The Sake of The Song; but who among us would expect to hear The Zombie’s 1960’s Hit She’s Not There being seamlessly included inside Stand Tall?
Not many; but it works a whole lot better than it should.
With so many great songs to choose from; I’ve settled on three to find one winner.
I doubt I’ve ever heard a bad rendition of John Prine’s Speed of The Sound of Loneliness; but here David Olney digs deep into the crevices of the heart of the song and squeezes your heartstrings until you can hardly draw breath.
David unleashes his inner Folk Troubadour with Situation/Don’t Try to Fight It and with the cracks in his voice at the fore; this isn’t in any way ‘easy listening’ in any way ….. but I love it anyway.
A lot easier on the ear is Two Bit Hood; a modernish tale not too far away from the Bonnie and Clyde story as if written by Tom Waits; and here David brings it up to date with two unnamed characters living outside the law; a low-rent girl and the Two Bit Hood himself ….. and in my humble opinion one of the finest works he’s ever produced; making it my Favourite Song on a rather exceptional album.

Released May 13th 2022
https://davidolney.com/

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://davidolney.com/music
https://davidolney.bandcamp.com/






Benjamin Adair Murphy OLD CHORDS

Benjamin Adair Murphy
Old Chords
Self Release

Straight Up Sparse Lo-Fi Americana/Folk-Rock That’s Full of Smart Melodies and a Desperado Guitar.

Not as dangerous as his earlier release, Let’s Make a King, yet recorded during the same sessions, the six songs that make up the EP Old Chords are straight up Americana/Folk-Rock full of smart melodies and tight, sparse arrangements.
Recorded in studios as varied as Tel Aviv, Brooklyn, and New Mexico, the production by Israeli-American musician Roy Gurel, serves the songs well with lap steel, guitar, organ, and a deep dark bass guitar.
Murphy himself is in fine voice throughout these tunes, and he sounds as if he’s having fun letting loose from the seriousness of Let’s Make a King.
The title track, “Old Chords,” one of the two songs voiced by Allison Langerak, who played with Murphy in the band Blue Eighty-Eights, is a Country ballad where the narrator seems to be looking for peace in the familiar, even though it’s repeating the past that keeps one’s heart broken.
Spacious layers of lap steel, add to the unsettled-ness of the song.
“That Ain’t Nothin'” brings together a desperado guitar and some sparse percussion to tell the story of someone just glad to have gotten by this far, despite the hardships they’ve faced.
Some days we focus on the things we want,
more than the things we have,
while the lap steel and the organ give a sense of triumph.
“The One I’m Waiting On” is a bit swampier and mournful, the busy bass adding to the restlessness of the narrator.
“Get Out of Here” Is the album closer, but would also have made a great opener with it’s story of woe and hopefulness, the combination of guitar and bass conveying the feel of a man walking away from everything bad that ever happened to him, and not sure what’s next.
This EP by Murphy and friends is a sweet Country sidestep from his last album.
Maybe he can mix it up on the next one?
A bit of danger, mixed with a dab of honey could be a good thing.

Review by the Legendary Roy Peak
https://www.benjaminadairmurphy.com/

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://benjaminadairmurphy.bandcamp.com/

Hannah White ABOUT TIME

Hannah White
About Time
Paper Blue Records

A Whole Bunch of Downright Honest, Heart-Piercing Songs Dipped in Southern Country From The Americana Quarter of London Town.

I can’t recall the last time I spun a new release and instantly froze, utterly memorized by the stirring, emotional vocals ringing out to me on the first track.
All the chores I’d planned to do whilst “givin’ it a first listen” on hold, before I knew it the whole album had played out in front of me.

I challenge anyone to resist the bewitching spell of this hauntingly powerful album from a South London based soulful, edgy Americana and Country Singer-songwriter, as she shares with us a painfully intimate and heart-tugging bunch of songs.
Indeed, as the title suggests, this is a confessional, brutally honest moment in time for Hannah White, finally finding her inner strength and bravely taking stock of some harrowing past struggles, serving up equal measures of suffering and optimism for better times.
A follow up to the much loved by RMHQ 2020 debut album, Hannah White & the Nordic Connections, yet it has all the feel of a rebirth, as it’s her first self-produced album, alongside her guitarist partner Keiron Marshall.

So onto that opening track: You Don’t Want Me. The intensely captivating vocals are delivered, in my humble opinion, with as much soul and heart as is humanly possible, evoking memories buried deep for many of us, remembering the pain of adoring that special someone who never felt the same way back. When Ms White hits the high notes, her desperation soars out.
It’s profoundly touching and perfectly accompanied by the echoes of soft rolling drums from Luca Wade, and the eery deep slow burning smouldering reverb of Keiron Marshall’s Duane Eddy-esq guitar, both adding reflective layers to the atmospheric quality of the track, whilst keeping the passionate vocals firmly in the spotlight.

Next song up has the feel of an antidote song; It Will Be Alright gently beckons us in with the delicately soothing, dancing Hammond hands of Lars Hammersland (a player from the Nordic Connections) with a softer, comfortingly simplistic old time feel: it’s an uplifting song despite balancing the joy that love can bring with some really dark tales woven into thought-provoking lyrics:

My children, they cry before school
Where they learn to divide, to compete and be cruel
My neighbours, they do nothing but fight
Every night I hear cries as I turn out the light……
But he’s holding me saying it will be alright”

Optimism continues to build with Bluest Eyes, a twang-tastic opening; leading to a hooky Latin vibe and toe-tappin’ number, superior to many a Summer holiday smash hit and the soon to be released next single Broken Bird, which is a gloriously classy and classic Country piano driven nostalgic journey.

It is almost as if Hannah White is building up our stamina before she hits us with a courageous, most heart-wrenchingly magnificent song in Car Crash: the first single, which was poignantly released on International Women’s Day.
It’s the epitome of a mother’s abyssal desperation, recounting the bleakest of times when the artist was homeless with her son, arrested and faced the threat of being separated from him.
Her voice, fragile and vulnerable hits us with a full fist, there is no pretence here, we know this is has come from real life, real anguish:

“They want to take my baby
They want to take my child
I was only trying to feed him
No I wasn’t out there running wild”

Yet with each new play of this remarkable album, I’m noticing the scales are weighing heavier on the Sunnier side of the lane and thus I’m plucking the chirpiest, most spirit-raising and all-round oozing carefree happiness track for the top spot: the Good Stuff skips along at a breezy Country pace, the band gel together in harmony ( bass and BVs courtesy of Svein Henning Berstad ) A touching moment in the song is when doubt creeps in, is this joyful state to be short-lived?

Smiling in the light when the dark is sure to come again
It’s harder now than it was then and it was hard back then
“.

Keiron’s instant musical response to these words, a rare moment indeed when our attention is firmly diverted away from Ms White’s stunning vocals when he launches into a love-fuelled woozy guitar solo, surely an emotional reassurance that together everything is gonna be alright.

On that note Hannah is about to embark on a UK tour in May to coincide with the album launch.
This is bound to be one emotional road trip, but I’m in no doubt the crowd will be cheering her on to bigger and brighter days ahead.
If you are still unsure, just press play on the first track and you’ll see……….

Released 22nd May 2022
Review by Anita Joyce
https://www.hannahwhitemusic.com/

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://www.hannahwhitemusic.com/music

Ann Peebles LIVE IN MEMPHIS

Ann Peebles & The Hi-Rhythm Section
Live in Memphis
Memphis International Records

A Little Ray of Sad and Soulful Sunshine Just For Your Very Own Pleasure.

I was so excited when I received this album; as I was a Soul Boy in my teens/early 20’s and Ann Peebles was a regular on my record player; mostly singles but her I Can’t Stand the Rain LP.
For once I actually read the Press Release before listening to the music; and that only served to whet my appetite even more as this is ‘only known live recording with the Hi Rhythm Section, being recorded at a show in February 1992‘ ….. YOWZA, YOWZA …. YOWZA!
The show starts with a super-smooth ballad If I Can’t See You that sent a tingle down my spine; especially as it was being played quite loud in the living room where I have my best speakers. As is the case in shows like this would have been; Ann slows things down mid-song to introduce herself and try to ‘whup up’ some extra excitement among the audience.
This track (and a couple of others) is only spoilt by the vicious editing at the end ….. no sleek fade …. just a STOP….. then Ann introducing Part Time Love which is even smokier and sultrier than my 7 inch single all those years ago.
There are a couple of songs included that I either can’t remember or just don’t know; but I’m thrilled to be acquainted all these years later with I Didn’t Take Your Man, which is one of those sassy tales of an extra-marital affair; via a one sided ‘telephone call’ that crops up occasionally in Soul Music and sets the pulse racing as you wait for the punchline at the end …. if it ever comes.
Another is the slow and slinky Didn’t We Do It, which borders on Gospel as Ann and the Hi-Lights show why they were and still are Stars of the Soul World.
Without any surprises at all the show includes with her three most famous songs; and each is rearranged enough to give them extra sparkle but not enough for any one to be even a smidgen disappointed; with the torrid tale of the unrequited love of a married man; I Feel Like Breaking Up Someone’s Home and I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse down slowed down to a sweltering and even voluptuous level, leaving you panting for breath hoping for a happy ending …. which never comes.
For a Favourite Track I pretty much should by all reasoning choose I Can’t Stand The Rain; which is as good as ever; and that intro is just ‘so iconic’; but I’m going for a song I hardly know in this format; You Keep Me (Hanging On) …. a minor hit in 1974; and somehow gives Ms Peebles the opportunity to show off her amazing vocal range without ever going too high or too low; and as for the Hi-Rhythm Section; they bring their studio perfection to the concert stage with effortless grace.

It’s been an absolute pleasure (really) listening to Ann Peebles again after all these years; and this album has been a little ray of sunshine when there’s so much doom and gloom surrounding us these days.

Released 29th April 2022
https://memphisinternational.com/

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
UK and Europe https://www.propermusic.com/mir2038-live-in-memphis.html



The Family Shiloh AT THE COLD COPPER RANCH

The Family Shiloh
At The Cold Copper Ranch
Self-Release

Good Ole Family Friendly Country Music Like What You Thought They Didn’t Make Anymore.

It’s a bit odd to describe an old fashioned Country Recording as ‘Alternative’ …. but that’s exactly what this band and album are; as they are the polar opposite of anything you will see on the CMA’s or hear on Country Radio these days ….. because; and this couldn’t be any simpler; The Family Shiloh are exactly what you’d expect from their moniker; a multi-generation Family Review that play Good Ole Fashioned Country Music, like Grandma used to love.
Before we go any further I will introduce the band; While Colby and Kimberly Pennington have been matrimonially and musically active together since 1997, the band has evolved from a husband-and-wife duo to a full-fledged family affair, with all five children, one daughter-in-law, and several in-laws and siblings participating in the effort. Jonah Pennington, 19, brings the excellent musicianship to the table, adding a versatile list of instrumentation to the mix, while Chloe, 17, contributes fiddle, piano, songwriting and an amazing voice that consistently turns heads in their live performances. Adeline, 15, adds beautiful harmonies and fiddle while Patience, 12 and Amelie, 10 provide excellent vocal support as they grow on their own instruments of choice.
After playing hundreds of shows in various guises over the years Colby discovered a ranch in Burnet County, Texas called the Cold Copper Cattle Co. which he felt was the perfect setting to write, record and take inspiration from for this their fourth LP.
Without scaring you; even though every song here is about the 4C in one way or another, that doesn’t really make this a Concept Album ….. but it might be.
The swoonsome Cold Copper Theme opens proceedings in the sweetest manner, introducing the listener to what is more or less to follow; with Cody spending the end of the day ‘putting in a pole at the old fishing hole‘ as the world passes him by, while his laid back mood is further enhanced by some ultra-sweet steel guitar and a shuffling drum beat, before the ladies harmonies glide seamlessly into angelic yodelling at the end.
Now, I realise that this album isn’t going to be for all the Cool Cats out there; but if you get past that first song you are in for 45 minutes of divine Country Music; the type old grumps claim ‘isn’t made anymore.’
As someone who lives in NE England; my first thoughts were that there were too many songs referencing cattle; but hey ….. The Family Shiloh’s demographic will probably appreciate, understand and love the minutiae that makes Dunn Lucky Dice, Cold Copper Call, Look At All Them Cows and It’s Gonna Be a Longhorn Day different from each other …. and in all honesty I love all of these anyway.
In many ways these songs and band are what I dream of stumbling upon at a Country Fair one day; with Cody taking centre stage in a Porter Waggoner/Don Messer fashion; and when the song needs a different style invites a ‘little lady’ (Chloe and/or Kimberley) to the front to sing the fizzing Sunshine Soul or Kansas before taking over proceedings himself.
A few weeks ago I was actually discussing the lack of Cowboy songs (and train driving too) in Country Music; but the Family Shiloh have filled that gap with style.
With 15 very different songs to choose from it’s been a bit of a chore trying to find one single track as a sole Favourite with Delta Lucky Ace leading the field a few days ago; then one afternoon the dramatic The Last Herd caught my attention; combining an aging Cowboy and the real life pathos a character like this can provide ….. expect ‘dust in the eye’ as it plays out btw.
Then I narrowed it down to two ballads; Chloe’s delightful Come With Me, which sounds not a million miles off Linda Ronstadt in style and range as she soars and glides on a Country Heartbreaker; whereas the other is Cody digging deep on In Lieu of You which features some really soulful harmonica and fiddle playing behind a tearful vocalist retracing the mistakes he’s made working so much over the years, to the detriment of his marriage …… which is perfect Country material; but not always has heartfelt as this particular song.
The album closes with Cold Copper Reprise; and it is a retrospective of what we’ve heard previously; and in the event of the Family Shiloh recreating this album on stage ….. it really is the perfect ending.
Don’t shoot me; but the album I think that this closest resembles is Springsteen’s WESTERN SKIES, certainly the mood is of a similar vein; but the construction of each individual song tells a single story; but added together creates a spellbinding narrative that you will keep coming back to as the years go by.

Released April 29th 2022
https://familyshiloh.wordpress.com/

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://familyshiloh.bandcamp.com/



Ian Siegal STONE BY STONE

Ian Siegal
Stone By Stone
Grow Vision Records

Digging Deep and Colouring Outside the Edges on a Modern Blues Classic.

While he’s previously released 13 other albums, I hope it’s fair to say that Ian Siegal is probably better known for his brilliant and passionate live shows; from pub backrooms through the main stage of International Festivals; that have gone down in history over the last 20+ years.
That said; the four albums I own ain’t got nothing wrong with them at all; and each one has managed to entertain me in the car or office many times over the years ….. and (Spoiler Alert!) this one will too.
STONE BY STONE starts with the ramshackle, Gospel tinged Working On a Building which sounds like it’s ‘Live Cut’ and will certainly catch your attention; especially that razor sharp geetar in the background.
Siegal’s ‘type of Blues’ straddles many formulas and he brings a freshness to each and every song that you probably weren’t expecting …… and I’m thinking especially of the Country-Blues infused The Fear as well as his pained rendition of Psycho (that I first heard by Elvis Costello on Almost Blue) and especially This Heart which sounds like Ian had been listening to a lot of Robert Johnson on the build up to recording day.
Fans like me fawn over Siegal’s exquisite guitar picking; yet the ‘experts’ in the mainstream sort of ignore him …… which is their loss and our gain; when you dissect the intimate and raw K.K’s Blues and Holler which are both very good songs made great by the inclusion of the the stupendous yet understated guitar in the background.
As we would normally expect from an Ian Siegal; there’s a lot of heartbreak in his songs; and he describes it in a manner multi-award winning songwriters and singers can only dream of on Gathering Deep and Onwards and Upwards, which closes the record in a jaunty manner.
Not for the first time and no doubt, not the last I’m torn between two fabulous and fabulously different songs for my selection of Favourite Song.
I’m The Shit, sounds like something Tom Waits could have written; but didn’t and while slightly tongue in cheek; Ian Siegal digs deep and colours outside the edges on a song about living on the edge and in the shadows.
Then there is Hand In Hand, which just may be one of the finest songs that Ian has ever recorded; not least because of the lyrics but the duet with the mighty Shemekia Copeland who takes on the guise of Aretha in her ‘Gospel mode’ and the result is absolutely stupendous …. and far too good to be ignored by national radio.
It’s not just Ian Siegal’s distinctive voice and/or guitar playing that makes this album a winner; but the crisp production actually makes him sound ‘as live’ and it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the sequencing is almost perfect; easing us through a gentle rollercoaster of adult emotions; the likes of which we rarely hear.

Released April 29th 2022
https://iansiegal.com/

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://iansiegal.com/recordings


Paul J Bolger HARD TRUTH

Paul J Bolger
Hard Truth
PILLARSTONE PRODUCTIONS

Celtic Rock Meets Indie in a Newry Honky Tonk.

I’ve been doing this reviewing malarkey for about 15 years now; and each and every year I think ‘it doesn’t get better than this’ for releases; yet when the following year gets going ….. it just gets better and better!
Regular readers already know that we still get excited about new music from acts we’ve not heard of before …. and that’s where this album by Irish filmmaker, artist, writer and musician Paul J Bolger comes in to the equation.
Personally I actually feel sorry for friends and family who claim to be ‘music fans’ but never look beyond Gold/Hits Radio and looky-likey covers bands; with a once a year trip to an Arena or a big field to see acts that they grew up listening to in their teenage years.
They are missing out on some fabulous new music from acts like Paul J Bolger.
I was hooked right from opening track The Start of It; slightly Wellerish in construction this bouncy song about a misfiring new relationship has ‘Hit’ writ large on it; had this been the 1990’s!
Be under no illusions though; Bolger isn’t living in the past at all; just that song and a couple of others later on (Testify and Different Sky?) have a cutting Indie edge to them; but the slight warble in the singer’s voice means the exact same songs wouldn’t be out of place in an Austin Bar on a Saturday night as well as a concert hall in the city nearest you too.
Speaking of the punchy Testify; the opening verse is an absolute belter!
As the crunchy electric guitar tries to ‘blow the speakers’ Bolger growls …….
Heading down the highway
I’m a living cliche
You’d think I’d know better
Now my hair’s gone grey
!”
Ain’t that the way of the world for me and you?
There’s a freshness to Bolger’s songs and the production here that makes the album perfect driving music; or when Summer finally arrives, a soundtrack to a party in the back garden.
I can’t think of a better way to listen to Godforsaken and/or Different Sky than driving along with the top down (or actually the car windows down!), sunny’s on and the wind in my hair … imagine The Doobie Brothers if they’d been from Waterford instead of San Jose!
Bolger certainly isn’t afraid of a melody or a chorus; as those songs prove ….. but he’s also well capable of drawing on his Irish background to go all deep, mysterious and darkly romantic on the title track HARD TRUTH, the totally beauteous Lady Love & The Cavalier, as well as See Love Shine and Believe You Me; which all tap into the romantic Celtic Rock made famous by Horslips and even Phillip Lynott many moons ago.
While the whole album is aimed at the ‘everyman’ in us all; a couple of songs hit me in the heart like silver bullets the first time I heard them; album closer Not Too Long a Walk; again has a hint of Weller circa Stanley Road and Bolger’s words and construction build the tension like a coiled spring; and the ghostly female harmonies on the chorus have to be heard to be believed!
The other, is a love song; the likes of which I’ve not really heard for a long time; as it’s directed to the woman who actually shares his bed …… not an unrequited love, not a bittersweet love; not a breakup song; just your age old boy meets girl, falls in love ….. stay together kind of love song; and the guitar/bass interplay alongside some mighty impressive drumming make this a definite ‘keeper’ and my absolute Favourite Track here is ight Of My Life.
It’s difficult to pinpoint Paul J Bolger’s ‘style’ or more importantly where a record shop would place this in their racks.
If he wasn’t Irish and the album recorded in Northern Ireland with only Irish musicians; it would probably slip into the Americana section; and the inclusion of a banjo here and there means it wouldn’t really be out of place in Alt. Country too; but that all pervading Indie sensibility that runs through like a gold thread can’t be ignored …. so does that make it Alt. Indie? Indie Country? Indie Celtic? Rustic Indie?
That no longer matters though; does it these days?
In my collection, it’s going to sit on the shelf with Paul Weller, Bryan Adams and Lucinda Williams …. and I think it will be very comfortable there.

Released April 29th 2022
https://www.pauljbolger.com/pages/about

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://pauljbolger.bandcamp.com/

https://youtu.be/cEKjTDYbXDI

Alice DiMicele EVERY SEED WE PLANT

Alice DiMicele
Every Seed We Plant
Alice Otter Music

Distinctly Americana and Folk at Heart But Intricately Swathed in Honeyed Soul Too.

For a musician with a 30 year career, 14 albums and a further 5 compilations, I’m embarrassed to tell you I have only heard one before; SWIM which I favourably reviewed in 2015.
In my defence that probably makes me the ideal candidate to review; this …. her latest release as I have no (or not many) preconceived opinions.
There’s a deceptive depth to the fabulous opening track, the love song For Granted; which sounds not unlike Dusty Springfield fronting R.E.M …. as it’s distinctly Americana at heart but swathed in honeyed Soul, which is most likely set to make even the toughest of tough guys and gals, simply swoon when they hear it for the first time.
That’s one of the many joys you will get from this particular record; songs with melodies that will please you, surprise you and most definitely make you think about the actual content of Alice’s words and articulate stories.
There’s an unequivocal maturity to the writing in songs like Free, the heartbreaking Sweet Elaine and the gentle acoustic sounds of Communication too; with the listener being taken deep into the hearts of the characters involved.
While there’s a variety of light and shade across this group of songs; there’s also a melancholia in the punchy and biographical Jersey and; earlier the intricate Long Dry Winter that’s actually worthy of Leonard Cohen at his most intimate and poetic … seriously.
I’ve only played EVERY SEED WE PLANT four or five times now; and (especially on headphones) I’m still discovering new things hidden in the grooves and regularly masked by winding melodies; with the delightful Sunrise and with Communication; I can’t help but think it could easily be a Springsteen song circa Nebraska ….. such is the quality of Alice DiMicele’s songwriting not just on this one song; but all of the others too.
Selecting one song out of these 11 was never going to an easy task; though the title track Every Seed is absolutely stunning and a ‘song of our times’ in many ways; plus when you know the backstory you will surely listen with moist eyes; as Alice wrote it on the way to a memorial for her mentor, dear friend and elder of the Takelma Tribe, Agnes Pilgrim Baker.
 “It was written on the way to Grandma Aggie’s memorial. The song overtook me, flowed out of me like Grandma was there guiding me. I wrote it, played it once, then sang it that day for her family and friends.”
It’s purely personal and another one of those songs that come along ‘right time/right place’ to grab you by the heartstrings and leave you sitting in awe of such a magnificent talent; and that song is Rise; which again thinking of Leonard Cohen as it again in the half light.
I have no idea where this album fits in Alice’s pantheon of work; as I know so little about her past releases …. but if there’s even one better than this someone please tell me; because I need to hear it ASAP!!

Released April 22nd 2022
https://www.alicedimicele.com/

BUY DON’T SPOTIFY
https://www.alicedimicele.com/product/every-seed-we-plant-2022/