Ian Roland & The Subtown Set Beyond Words Indiesonics
We’ve been fans of Ian Roland and latterly his Subtown Set ever since he sent RMHQ a copy of his solo HOW THE DUST JUMPS CD in 2015; https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/cd-reviews-2015/ian-roland-how-the-dust-jumps/ so when he got in touch a couple of weeks ago with this new single my heart genuinely skipped a beat. In the intervening years their sound and songs have really developed and matured; as you will hear when you hear this new single.
Following on from the Ian Roland & Subway Set debut album, ‘Double Rainbow’ (Indiesonics, Feb 2020), Ian Roland & The Subtown Set release the second single, ‘Beyond Words’, from a new album they are currently recording.
The indescribable beauty of the natural world is the theme for this love song. In the words of David Attenborough, “We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited…All we need is the will to do so.” (‘A Life on Our Planet’, David Attenborough, 2020).
Jumpin’ Hot Club Country Cantina 2021 The Barn Easington Colliery Co. Durham
Friday 23rd July 2021
I’ve been a huge supporter and a small cog in the Jumpin’ Hot Club team for decades; yet this was the first of their 6 (or is it 7?) previous Country Cantina Mini-Festivals for work/holiday reasons I’ve managed to attend; and even then I missed the headline act! At the other end of the afternoon I set off in plenty of time to make the 25 minute journey; yet because of punching the wrong Sat-Nav coordinates into the car and then trying to follow a hand drawn map around the maze that is Easington Colliery (home of Billy Elliott) I actually took 87 minutes to find the site; a derelict farmhouse and barns that have been converted into an outdoors Community Centre; which is actually the perfect setting for a small Country Music Festival. So; instead of arriving nicely relaxed, I turned up desperate for the toilet near the end of opening act, Shipcote & Friends’ set. Hey ho – I did get to sit in the glorious sunshine to see and hear the trio perform a beautiful version of one of my favourite of their songs; Lucky Fell then after some debate and audience riposte; a stunning encore song; Amy about; and dedicated to Amy Winehouse who died ten years ago to the day.
The 15 minute break meant I got to say ‘hello’ to a few friends in the audience and also Gem Andrews who was going to be part of the Songwriters’ Circle which was imminent; and the reason I took a day off work. It soon appeared that there was a delay and it was because Lady Nade, who was making her way to the NE from Bristol 300 miles or more away was delayed; but nearly there. So it was determined that Gem and another RMHQ Favourite Ver Van Heeringen would start without her. A slightly nervous Gem introduced herself then opened the first of her first three songs with Letter; a rather beautiful love song; and a lot more Country, courtesy of Gem’s rich voice and new-found ‘Twang’ in it. With that out of the way she visibly relaxed and followed it with a staple of her concerts pre-2018 pregnancy; Two Lighthouses, Gem’s adaptation of Julia Darlings’ poem ….. and when played in the right key (not the last time today!) was absolutely delightful. Then; baring in mind where we were, Gem thought it appropriate; and she was correct ….. to include her ode to coal miners; Lungs, which in the shadows of a village that saw some of the most violent clashes in the Miners Strike was listened to in awe and received a noisy round of applause at the end.
Word went around that Lady Nade had arrived; but as she sorted herself out JHC regular, Vera Van Heeringen carried on regardless; starting with telling us the background to Gods; from her latest album which I loved and held the 50 strong crowd in awe. She followed this with Enough Time; then throwing caution to the wind performed a brand new song; either called Nora Lee or Let The Tears Come Raining Down; which was the heartbreaking chorus; and as uptempo as Vera ever gets. It was finally time for Lady Nade to make her appearance; and while not quite the London Palladium; she made quite the entrance huge ….. and I mean HUGE beaming smile, short floaty dress and magnificent silver boots. After a short apology she launched into her set with her ‘radio hit’ Willing, which left the majority of the audience open mouthed. Nade then explained how she got ‘into songwriting’ via writing poems after a close family member died, which evolved into songs and introduced her to Folk Clubs ….. and the song Complicated came from that period. As I sat on the grassy knoll near the stage I was amazed at how clear and soulful her voice was/is live; and possibly aided by the oddly wonderful acoustics from the outdoor barn setting. One of the joys of gigs for me is hearing the stories behind songs; and while it was no real surprise, but we all chuckled when Nade explained Call Yourself a Friend was about her ‘best friend’ going out with her ex-boyfriend …….. “never upset a songwriter!” I know and already love the song; but watching the faces of people hearing it for the first time made my torrid journey well worth while. It was now back to Gem; who regaled us with Carol; about a friend who got cancer in her 70’s and decided to go out with a bang …… trying all of the Class A drugs she could get her hands on! (Who knew you could see flavours of muffins????) This was followed by a new and unfinished song Gem had alluded to earlier in the day; her Covid Pop Song (Back To Colour); written in the wake of her Grandfather’s demise from this horrible virus; and made all the more raw and cathartic when we found out one of her uncles died of it the previous Wednesday. Gem’s finale was another favourite of ours; and several other friends in the very appreciative audience. I know it doesn’t mean much; but I was just as impressed with Vera’s Adidas SK8 shoes as I was with her songs; and I lover her songs. Her three in this set were as cool as they were fascinating; none more so than Man With a Gun; which featured some really impressive guitar work to accompany her songs and the darkly passionate You Won’t Be Broken. For a variety of reasons there hadn’t been much interaction between the three singers; but this changed during Pass the Whiskey; which would normally feature band members doing solos; but today we had Lady Nade adding a scat-trumpet in the middle. Quite the raconteur Lady Nade really did have the crowd in the palm of her hand during her intro to Last Dance; which she wrote while preparing for her wedding; even though she hasn’t even got a boyfriend! While most people hadn’t heard her first two albums; she still got a cheer when she introduced the as yet unrecorded One Sided from the proposed third album. For a finale Lady Nade asked for requests; notably picking on me …… and my mind went totally blank! Thankfully she decided on the introspective Ain’t One Thing; about being ‘body positive’; which if I hadn’t been so ‘shy’ would have been my choice … honest. While obviously not Glastonbury; it was cool to see both Lady Nade and Vera (who also had her own brand hot sauce with her) selling a few CD’s and tote bags.
Now running slightly behind schedule; Goat Roper Rodeo Band decided to forgo a proper soundcheck and more or less ‘went for it’! That ‘Rocking and Rolling’ attitude; really won the crowd over and right from the get go the Welsh acoustic trio ‘went for it.’ I’m not really sure where to fit them in; as opening song Space Cowboy (NO! Not that one) was very Flying Burritos in the way they harmonised and used a bouncy melody to get at least two women dancing. Next up was a smartly constructed Since You Been gone and with barely time to draw breath as they changed lead vocalists for the third time; Honey Bee was what I can only describe as Welsh Grass; and mighty impressive it was too. Annoyingly I was ‘on the clock’ and nervously checking my watch by the sharp as a tack Latino Ballerino; and grumpily had to leave the Festival at the end of the magnificent slice of Country Rock that was Key Lime Pie!
I genuinely wish I could read maps; then I would have seen all of Shipcote’s session; and despaired at missing the last two acts; but what I did see reignited my love of Live Music after the last two years ……. it’s only Folk and Rock and Roll; but I love it.
Jackson Browne Downhill From Everywhere Inside Recordings
Still as Relevant and On The Mark Today, As He Was 50 Years Ago.
I can’t really remember when or where I first heard of Jackson Browne; the OGWT I presume; but I have vague memories of long haired A Level students at my school carrying around JACKSON BROWNE and/or LATE FOR THE SKY LP’s under their arms (while I had T Rex and Rod Stewart); so he seems to have ‘always been there’ in my life. That said, he’s a singer that I’ve never really played a lot of the years; probably losing track long before the Millenium; I guess ……. but that doesn’t mean a ‘hill of beans’ in the grand scheme of things; as he’s been releasing albums relatively ‘under the radar’ and touring nearly non-stop, it appears. So; with all of that knowledge, I was pretty excited to receive Browne’s latest a few weeks ago. Oddly enough, the first day I went to play it in the car it was a cold and rainy July morning; and it was pretty obvious that I needed some sunshine to get the best from it; and I was correct. Mmmmmmmmm….. opening track Still Looking For Something is totally fascinating. It is exactly what it says on the tin via the song title; and the only surprise is how astute Browne is with his thoughts on growing older and he manages to capture something of my own anxieties in his words; as I guess you will too. Even in a ‘blind tasting’ if I’d had three guesses as to who this album was by; I think I may have guessed it was Jackson Browne singing. Previously I wouldn’t have thought he had a distinctive voice; but it turns out he has; and to some extent he’s still using the tried and trusted formula that brought him great success 50 years ago; “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” with his clever My Cleveland Heart; which would be a man-made version; “They’re made to take a bashin’ and never lose their passion” Unlike the heady days of the 70’s and 80’s when the great and the good would dive headlong into Jackson Browne’s albums for their own Megahit; I doubt the new generation will with these songs; which is a huge shame as the songwriter still has a lot to say about life, love and the state of the world we find ourselves in; and a very clever and pleasant way of doing it; try the piercing Until Justice is Real, the title track Downhill From Everywhere or the punchy A Human Touch, a duet with co-writer Leslie Mendelson, and grapples with the discrimination that still surrounds same sex relationships; but will have many of us thinking about our own relationships; regardless of orientation. Browne’s long term followers will undoubtedly love the Carribean-lite deliciousness of Love Is Love and the Jazzy and thought provoking A Song For Barcelona; and no doubt you will too. As I said earlier there was a time when Megastars would come to Jackson Browne for their next big hit; and 9 times out of 10 he would come good; and here there a few songs that fit that mould; none more so than the Tex-Mex drenched The Dreamer, whose stark message will pass many listeners by, as it has a lovely lilting melody; but the sharp eared among us will hear Browne’s harrowing story through clenched teeth (and fists). For what it’s worth I can picture the likes of Joe Cocker singing this mid-concert to pure silence; but perhaps it is best left to Jackson Browne sings and Los Cenzontles’ Eugene Rodriguez. “We don’t see half the people around us, But we see enemies who surround us And the walls that we’ve built between us, Keep us prisoners of our fear.” Not that there should be any doubt; The Dreamer is certainly my Favourite Song here and should be yours too. There’s a helluva lot to like here; and very little, if anything to dismiss; with this being the type of CD that your kids will buy you as a Birthday present and you will stick it on the (Electric) car stereo and it will still be there a month later with you singing along merrily on the way to and from the weekly ‘big shop.’ It’s a tad odd that we talk about ‘Americana’ music in all its glories; but forget that the likes of Jackson Browne were treading that path long before it was Cool; and I’m perfectly happy sitting this slickly produced album alongside modern day legends like John Prine, Guy Clark, Mary Chapin Carpenter and indeed; Miss Nanci Griffith.
Willie Nile The Day The Earth Stood Still River House Records
The Elder Statesman of NY Rock & Roll Continues His Creative Roll with Emotive and Catchy Lockdown Tales
Willie Nile is on a roll, after the well-received “New York at Night” comes “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, which in effect is a lockdown record, inspired by Nile’s personal response to the empty streets of New York during 2020’s COVID times. The opening title track, The Day The Earth Stood Still, is Dylan-esque in its chord progression but like Tom Petty on steroids – it also quotes from the cult 50’s science-fiction film of the same name and is a hook-laden delight. “Sanctuary”, which follows, starts with a spooky church organ before hitting a Springsteen/Blondie groove with bouncing double-drum beat rhythms – and is yet another total earworm. “Where There’s Willie, There’s a Way” is a jokily self-promoting Ramonesesque stomp, and the double-entendres seem to be fully intentional, when Willie sings – amongst other things that “The crown jewels are on display”. Nile’s neighbour Steve Earle pops up on the AC/DC chug-along, “Blood On Your Hands” which takes a lyrical swerve from the humour of the preceding track to demonstrate a social critique an and commentary on those in power – it’s angry …… “Hell will remember all the times you’ve lied” and it’s delivered with the right amount of rage by both Earle and Nile in sympatico. “The Justice Bell” (For John Lewis)” takes a musical step back into gentler territory but still presents a defiant face of a wish to carry on the work of John Lewis in the eternal quest for truth and justice – “The justice bell will not be stilled/Hear it ring”. “Expect Change” is reminiscent in feel to Blondie’s “Rapture” and is another paean to the one certainty in life; and the repeated refrain of “it’s coming” underscores the Ozymandias like message that “great” things are but transient. “I Don’t Remember You” takes a more personal lyrical path and is another in the fine tradition of Nile’s New York character/relationship vignettes. T here’s an upping in pace again with the joie de vivre of “Off My Medication” and it’s almost stream of consciousness hyperactive lyrical delivery suits the humorously confessional tale of life released from its shackles, with the narrator stating that “…now I’m running naked with a Bible round the block” (Upon hearing that for the first time, I was expecting a different word that rhymes with “block” to be honest, but this is just as funny) – great handclaps and singalong title too! Juxtaposed with this is the gently picked expression of romantic solidarity “I Will Stand.” Penultimate track “Time to Be Great” slips back into funkier territory and is a positive call to arms in times of uncertainty – no better time than now to do what the hell you need to do! Album closer “Way Of The Heart” is another Springsteenesque power ballad about the redemptive power of love, community and communion “remember when you’re all alone, you’re not the only one” it’s an infectious optimism in the face of inevitable change and momentary hardship that pervades this album.
Yet again, Willie Nile pulls one out of the top drawer and his fire continues to burn strong and brightly. As I said at the start of this review – Mr Nile is very much on a creative roll – keep it coming!
Mark Germino Midnight Carnival Red Parlor Records/Proper Records
Everything I Love About Americana Music Wrapped and Rolled In 14 Well Told Stories.
Even if today is the first time you’ve ever encountered our little website, you will surely go from this review to our Home Page; and there you will see why Mark Germino holds a place in not just my heart; but the hearts of all our writers too. His song Rex Bob Lowenstein has been one of my biggest musical influences; telling me that you can have eclectic musical taste and still be cool. By the time I actually bought a copy of that CD single in a secondhand store, it was probably 3 or 4 years old; but I still cherish it to this day; and it’s been the first song I’ve played on every radio show/series I’ve done …. as it explains ‘what you are about to receive!’ Anyways; leap forward to today; and finally getting my hands on an album of his has been eye-wateringly exciting after all these years. My eyes nearly popped out of my head as the accordion rocked my speakers off their stands on opener Travelling Man; and when Mark comes in 30 seconds later I very nearly punched the air ….. yes sir; this is going to be my kinda music! The song has Friday Night hoedown written all over it; and will give a rye smile when you hear him belting out the chorus; “I met a pretty lady was the bar room kind She could hold her liquor But couldn’t hold mine!” Although coming from North Carolina; Germino sounds uncannily like Levon Helm; but that’s more likely because he too has a voice that sounds like the man behind it has ‘had a life, well lived’ …. if you know what I mean. While obviously an acclaimed songwriter in his own rite; Germino also carefully wears his influences on his tattered sleeve; I will leave it for you to guess who I’m talking about on the pathos laden Blessed Are The Ones and The Talking Country-Blues of The Greatest Song Ever Written; which both have the capacity to make your mouth gape wide open the first time you hear them. #I’d love it for someone to tell me who the female he sings about is; as “She come from the North East Coast of Great Britain To write the Greatest Song Ever Written.” The observations in his songs are extraordinary; Muddy Spoon in a Sugar Bowl mind-blowingly beautiful and Tennessee Trash Disclosure is another Honky-Tonky dance tune that will eventually catch you unawares and the penny will drop. As a child one of my favourite Favourite TV shows was Casey Jones; and it was nearly 50 years later on Otis Gibbs’ podcast that I found out he was a real person; and Mark uses his Jones here as a metaphor, on Peace Train (John Luther Jones) and I can’t wait to finally see him live so I too can belt out the chorus without fear of being laughed at! Being such a quality songwriter Germino manages to change the mood and pace brilliantly; courtesy of the sequencing; seamlessly following the Twangfest of Carolina in the Morning with the deceptively complex Finest American Waltz; then hitting you with the sucker punch; Author of My Journey ……. which is a song just crying out to be covered by Kris Kristofferson or Willie Nelson! Any or all of these songs; and more could or will be my Favourite Track on another day …. but this morning two particular songs have captured my heart, for very different and very personal reasons (which I won’t go into). The powerful and possibly introspective, Lightning Doesn’t Always Strike The Tallest Tree is one of those songs that has the capacity to make you go “Wow!” then press repeat…. then repeat …… and again, repeat. The other is the finale; Until The Fat Man Swings; no more and no less than a cracking and indeed crackling, Country Song about a baseball player in ‘the minor leagues’ that again, may or may not be a metaphorical song, but hey; this is everything I love about Americana Music wrapped and rolled in 4 minutes and 19 gloriously observed minutes …… and Andy Leftwich’s fiddle in the background is rather fabulous too! On the basis of listening to this single album; why oh why isn’t Mark Germino’s name not mentioned in the same breath as Guy, Townes, Rodney and; of course Townes? He can certainly match them note for note and word for word, that’s for sure ……. but hey; sometime we all need a ‘secret love’ don’t we? Mark Germino just might be new Musical Secret Love!
Mark Harrison Band The Road to Liberty Self-Release
Universally Observational Roots and Troubadour Songs Straight Outta Coventry!
First of all Mark Harrison is no relation at all; in fact I’m not even aware of a family member called Mark; plus in the original e-mail; I was addressed as Dear Rocking Magpie ….. so no conflict of interests here. In theory I should have been aghast at the prospect of a Double Album full of Folk and/or Folk Rock music; but there was something intriguing about the album Cover that intrigued me and drew me in. In no small way, the intricate steel-guitar picking and militaristic drumming at the start of opener Tribulation Time was another reason that I carried on listening. The song itself; and the Guthriesque way Mark delivers it is very much a timeless song ‘of our times’ if that isn’t too much of a contradiction; as with hindsight is the dark Better Days too. Obviously there was the fear that the band could have peaked early; but the next song; Everybody Knows is a definite ‘keeper’; a rather delightful Americana/Bluegrass love song Straight Outta Coventry! Being his sixth release; Mark writes some very mature and clever songs that will pique the interest of listeners like myself; Club of Lost Souls is a quintessentially British tale; but the writer still finds something universal and full of songwriting pathos in his words and observations; Wheels Going Round shouldn’t really work; but fans of the likes of Tom Paxton and Tom Rush will recognise a kindred spirit at play; and Curl Your Toes is an expression that I haven’t heard in years; but somehow Mark makes it the perfect title for a tale of unrequited love. Even with those five previous albums to pick from; I’d have no problems at all turning up and finding Mark and Friends playing this album in all it’s glory from start to finish; especially All Rise which sounds like it could be from the American Civil War; but isn’t; and the fabulous Lowlife Avenue; also from the second album. As someone with no discernable musical talent; I never fail to be impressed by songwriters of all ilks; but when someone like Mark Harrison can sit in the shadows unnoticed then turn out quality songs like the red raw observational Toolmaker’s Blues, Hard Life and/or I’m Damned with no publicity machine behind them; so they are quite simply part of his repertoire for Fans Only. While I was expecting a raucous sing-along with Last Bus Home; what we actually receive is a delightful and Summery instrumental that has me smiling every time I play it. With so much to choose from; and the quality being so high from start to finish; any Favourite Track will have to be very special; won’t it? Well, substitute they for it; and you will find my choice is a tie between the gentle and articulate Passing Through; which has a melody not a million miles away from Greensleeves btw; and Don’t Let The Crazy Out The Bag (Too Soon) which could just as easily be a political statement or break-up song; who knows …… but it certainly shows what a rare talent Mark Harrison is!! Apparently; and this will come as no great surprise but the Mark Harrison Band is something of an ever evolving beast; occasionally a 3 or 4 piece ensemble; usually a duo and when necessary Mark Harrison himself; and that sort of comes across on these songs at various times….. yet all combining to create a very listenable hour and a bit. Perhaps I did Mark a disservice describing his music as Folk; because it’s so much more than ‘just that’ ….. in today’s parlance; his canny mix of Folk and Blues is Roots Music I suppose; and where he and the band from the States would undoubtedly fit into the Americana field of play. So; if the Mark Harrison Band come to a town near you or ever play a Festival you are at; take a chance …… you won’t be disappointed; and tell him Uncle Alan sent you. (#Joke)
We are kind of avoiding singles these days; primarily because there are so many being released these days and we can’t keep up. But; occasionally ones arrives that piques the attention and you are left going “PHEW!” Which is what happened here with David Starr’s latest release in his Touchstones covers project. So far he’s released a new digital single every month for the last eight months; “Cabo San Lucas,” “Drive” (The Cars), “Angel From Montgomery” (John Prine), “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” (Gladys Knight), “Someone Like You” (Van Morrison), “These Days” (Jackson Browne), “Gotta Serve Somebody” (Bob Dylan), and “Every Kind of People” (Robert Palmer); but this version of JJ Cale’s Magnolia; which features the legendary John Oates too, really took my breath away; most especially his vocals; breathing new life into this beautiful classic; and I told his record company so ….. and here is an RMHQ Exclusive first play of the accompanying video.
Steve Dawson AT THE BOTTOM OF A CANYON IN THE BRANCHES OF A TREE Pravda Records
Cathartic Soul Searching Heartbreakers From a Writer With a Poet’s Soul.
I’ve been aware of Steve Dawson; mostly by reputation for a few years now. I can’t think why his band Dolly Varden have never crossed my path; but they ain’t. So; what we have here ….. is all new to me; so let’s get started. Recorded after something of a musical hiatus following the deaths of two people very close to him; Dawson sounds understandably incredibly emotive on opening track; This Is All There Is; yet still evoking the ‘Canadian Cool’ that I’ve come to expect from his friends and peers these days; even if he does hail from San Diego and lives in Chicago! Don’t be fooled by the laid back ‘sound’ here; Dawson’s words and prose are truly heartbreaking when you listen intently …. especially on headphones. The mood stays quite dark and maudlin throughout; which is obviously no real surprise; but what is surprising somewhat is the beauty and light that Steve Dawson can bring to these stories; none more so than 22 Rubber Bands, which builds and builds until this final verse … “I never loved anything the way I loved you Impossible and all the way deep through I know I made a lot of mistakes There is no time to waste I wanna know love.“ Without cutting and pasting the Press Release; it’s self-evident on a cursory play that these songs are cathartic; not just for the songwriter himself ….. but will be for many of us listening too; try playing Hard Time Friend and We Are Walking In a Forest (a duet with Dolly Varden’s Diane Christiansen btw) to hear exactly what I mean. While Steve Dawson is undoubtedly a ‘household name’ in many households; but to the likes of me he evokes memories of musical poets like John Martyn and, of course Van Morrison the way he intricately ties your heartstrings in knots without you hardly noticing; but none more so than his one time mentor Patty Griffin on the worn and whispering She Knew and the stinging title track itself; AT THE BOTTOM OF A CANYON AT THE BOTTOM OF A CANYON IN THE BRANCHES OF A TREE which is the perfect description for how he must have felt at the beginning of this project; and how many of us regularly feel too. I regularly use the expression ‘this is a Grown Ups album’ and this most certainly fits that description; as the both the singer and listener have to have suffered life’s lows to appreciate the highs and therefore truly understand Beautiful Mathematics, Time to Remember and (one of two bonus tracks on my copy) the haunting You’re Trying Too Hard. Back to ‘old fashioned descriptions’ this is very much an album to put on, close the curtains, turn the lights down and simply wallow in; which brings me to my two Favourite Tracks; I Will Never Stop Being Sorry; which covers many, many scenarios in our lives …… but ….. but …… The other selection comes at the beginning and really made me sit up straight; Forgiveness Is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be has a twist in the tale that I never expected (and which I’m not going to give away). This is one of those highlights in a writer’s career and comes from someone with a poet’s heart and soul ….. and it appears that Steve Dawson has both in abundance. I’m not sure where this leaves me; as I’ve fallen head over heels with this album and if I had the time would certainly be bound to discover Steve’s back catalogue; which I urge you to do …… but perhaps I’m best served just keeping this close to hand for when I need to wallow in Steve Dawson’s insightful strength and wisdom.
Stunning, Beautiful and Keenly Observed Canadian Folk Songs Depicting Events Across The 21st Century.
This very nearly passed me by; as I made the ‘schoolboy error’ of reading the Press Release before listening to the actual music. Firstly I’d never heard of Murray; although born in Scotland he appears to be a genuine Living Legend in his home of Canada; but when I read that he had “challenged himself to look within himself for issues pertaining to systemic racism, privilege, and economic disparity on his landmark 20th album.” Well; I presumed that what was to follow would be ‘worthy’ to the max! But, he, you and his record label can thank my trusty IPhone for finding If You’re Out There Jesus ……… the intricate guitar and pedal-steel intro lulls you a sense of false security before he hits you with a sucker punch, disguised as a gentle Folk Song, straight beneath the ribs …. knocking the air out of your lungs and making your legs go wobbly. If his previous 19 albums are only 25% as powerful and thought provoking as this single song, then I can understand why he’s a Multi-Award winning Juno artist. But, dear reader …… there’s more …… much more ahead. The opening track The One Per Cent sounds like the kind of laid back Folk Song I’d probably expect from someone like Gordon Lightfoot; but just like his work and that of my personal Favourite Folk Singer Tom Paxton; Murray sounds like your Granddad singing a lullaby, until you really listen intently then go …… phew; he’s a wise old man; isn’t he? A couple of songs later, there’s America and Shining City on a Hill which are both every bit just as ‘gentle’ as before but with very discreetly powerful messages in McLauchlan’s canny observational words …… and by the way; his world weary voice sounds like he’s singing through tattered velvet, which is possibly a metaphor in itself. Okay Canada, I’m late to the party but forgive me please, as you’ve obviously been hiding Murray McLauchlan hidden from the rest of us; and that’s not fair; especially when he’s capable of putting songs like Hourglass and Wishes, which are both absolutely stunning; yet don’t make the Top 5 on this album. Many songwriters recently have included their tribute to George Floyd; which is possibly why I was worried that this could end up being a bit ‘worthy;’ but Murray McLauchlan’s rye and razor-sharp song I Live on a White Cloud (Song for George Floyd) is truly tremendous and without actually naming Floyd, captures the ‘spirit’ of the Black Lives Matter movement better than an aging white Folk Singer from a different country has any right too. I actually had to Google two song titles as they too have people’s names in the title as I listened; and just as I discovered who Alan Kurdi was in Lying By The Sea; the penny dropped anyway. Phew …… what a brave and articulate song McLauchlan has created to honour (?) the 3 year old Syrian boy who was washed up on a beach in 2015 after his family attempted to flee the Civil War. So very much has happened in the intervening years that he’s mostly been forgot about (yesterday’s newspapers become todays’ rubbish wrapper!) but this sterling Folk Singer is hopefully about to bring the child and his story back to the forefront of our consciousness and indeed; consciences. The one song here destined to be ‘of its time’ is undoubtedly Pandemic Blues. I’m not sure if it’s too early for this song (I’m aware of about 20 others btw) but as we are all still living through the Pandemic without any visible ‘end’ perhaps Murray could have waited a year otr two to make his observations. Now with a week or more of regular plays; HOURGLASS is actually a very important collection of songs; that just might be a record of a horrible time in Earth’s history; but as with all the best Horror Stories there is always light at the end of the tunnel and your faith in humanity will eventually be restored. Which is where my Favourite Song come into play; A Thomson Day (For Tom Thomson). Again I had to Google Tom Thomson and found he’s a feted Canadian painter; and McLauchlan appears to use him and his beautiful oil paintings of Canadian landscapes as an analogy that ……. no matter how bad things seem today; there’s always tomorrow and tomorrow could be a Thomson Day. Okay; as I say I am late to the party, but what a discovery Murray McLauchlan has been and I hope he is for you; especially as this, his 20th release is a very important record of events happening on our doorsteps; and as always it takes a simple Folk Singer to bring them to our attention and doing it quite beautifully too.
I knew nothing about Doug Tuttle before receiving this EP and not a lot more now; apart from him being a singer, songwriter and producer who recorded these 5 tracks in his Home Studio during lockdown. “ENOUGH with lockdown people …… we get it!” As I’ve said many times before; listening to and deciphering ‘new music’ is regularly a case of ‘right place/right time’ and I’ve probably been guilty of missing some great music because the first day I heard a couple of tracks I was ‘in the wrong mood.’ But here; there was something about the cover picture that drew me to it just as my Funk was lifting a week or so ago and Doug Tuttle’s winsome, intricate and decidedly Lo-Fi opening track Bruised and Bothered soothed my mental aches and pains like a cup of sweet, milky tea. That said, the five tracks here all cover different territory and show what a multi-talented chap young Mr Tuttle is. The very next track Lead Mask is a more intense number, but baruing in mind my mood that day, Tuttle’s words went straight to my heart and the delightful alt-psychedelic melody takes you on a dreamy rainbow ride that you won’t expect at all. I can fully appreciate Track #3 Darkness Under Blight in all its bleak beauty today; and certainly feel I know where the writer is coming from; and I’m just pleased it wasn’t the opener. To some degree this song reminds me of Liverpudlian songsmiths Ian McNabb and Rob Vincent as he combines heartfelt intensity with an ‘everyman’ honesty in his lyrics. That darkness continues somewhat on Liber Gold; but there’s definitely glimmers of light in the way Tuttle’s guitar and keyboards get picked out and soar like a newly released butterfly. (I hope that doesn’t sound too whimsical btw) It doesn’t happen as often as you’d expect, but Doug certainly keeps the best ’til last with the paradoxically titled Weak End; which it most certainly isn’t …… with Tuttle adding a big sounding production while still keeping it on the cusp of Lo-Fi, which is quite an achievement and the song certainly benefits from it too; although I don’t like the abrupt ending. With only five tracks on offer, I’ve managed to play this from start to finish a few times now; and I can’t really explain why but the more I hear it the more I think of George Harrison circa Cloud Nine; which was a lot better than the reviews had you believe.