Quasi-Alt. Country Folk Meets The Punk Rockers Uptown
If I’m being brutally honest I’ve always liked the ‘idea’ of the Mekons more than their actual music; and that includes seeing them live several times alongside a couple of pals who are more or less tribal followers. But, that might actually finally change with this album, their 22nd (?) full length album. It was probably opening track Lawrence of California that won me over last week; with the pumping bass and Quasi-Alt. Country Twang masking an articulate, nay poetic Folk Ballad of epic proportions ……. quite perfect for a midnight drive home from work in a mood as dark as the Black Hole of Calcutta. It’s quite an uncompromising start; and to misquote someone else, The Mekons ‘start with a bang and move upwards!” Mercifully for me, the songs here are more on the Folky spectrum of their combined talents than the noiseniks that I saw at the Riverside in Newcastle; with How Many Stars being almost pastoral as Tom Greenhalgh’s deadpan vocals unravel a magical and occasionally mystical tale. For Alt. Country fans like what I am; The Mekons are a veritable Who’s Who of the genre, with many being the backbone of some of my favourite Bloodshot albums. I have a couple of Sally Timms albums and when she comes to the fore on In The Desert and the punchy Electro-Punk of Into The Sun (alongside Jonboy Langford?) a much maligned genre becomes very cool indeed. That’s the joy, but not the biggest surprise that this album has to offer; the sum of all the individual talents combine to go off on a multitude of tangents yet remain a quintessential Mekons album. Where to go for a Favourite Track? Who knows, as every song here will appeal to different people for different and often quite extraordinary reasons. Weimar Vending Machine is dark and brooding; and really touched a spot that first cold night? Tom Greenhalgh droll vocals brings an acid drenched excitement to HARAR 1883; and the lyrics are quite mind bending too making it a contender. But; and this may even be controversial among the more astute longstanding Mekons fans; I’m plumping for the quirky and, dare I say it…… poppy Andromeda. It’s as left-field as The Mekons get….. and boy can they go way, way out left! In my defense it’s just four and a half minutes of gorgeous musical wizardry that sums up what the Mekons are, and should be. A tune that can’t decide if it’s Folk, Indie or World, an array of classic and even classical instruments that shouldn’t work together but do; a singer who wouldn’t get past the auditions on X-Factor and a weird set of lyrics that has me singing along the the odd line or two. What’s not to like? Not for the first or indeed the last time this year I’ve fallen in love with an album that “Isn’t for everyone” and that’s intentional ……. The Mekons tread their very own idiosyncratic path that leads the listener into dark, dangerous territories that will scare the casual listener; but the musical world is a much better place for bands and albums like this.
A Collection of Lost Gems Create an Absolute Diamond of an Album.
Yikes! Who knew there was a ‘Great Lost’ Marvin Gaye album? Well, many of the songs here have actually turned up on those horrible re-hashed budget records that litter the Sale bins, but never in a fully formed format like this, as YOU’RE THE MAN is an accumulation of everything the Great Man recorded in the year following the original release of WHAT’S GOING ON, but was shelved by Tamla as the lead single and first track here; You’re The Man stalled in the charts at #50, which they thought wasn’t good enough. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this song before; and listening today this ‘sarcastic riff on political non-action’ may not be as hard hitting as anything on What’s Going On; but that funky Sly Stone guitar and bass coupled to some biting lyrics is as relevant today as it was nearly half a century ago. I always worry when I hear tracks that have remained ‘in the can’ as I always reckon they weren’t released for a good reason…… they weren’t good enough. Unlike the Tamla Motown Executives I’m not going to compare and contrast this album with What’s Going On, which was groundbreaking and rightly argued about as one of the greatest albums of all time; I’m just taking it sing by song and putting them where they belong in 2019. The only thing I will say on that point is, I find it really sad that so many songs here really are still relevant today as I type; starting with The World is Rated X, originally written about Gaye’s brothers experiences in Vietnam; but could have been written last week about our soldiers still patrolling the streets in the Middle East in the 21st Century. A superb song on a sad, sad subject. One of the key ‘selling points’ about this remarkable album will be the three remixes by SaLaAM ReMi; My Last Chance, Symphony and I’d Give My Life For You; all of which slide easily into any retrospective of Marvin’s finest work, especially the beautiful ballad My Last Chance, which finds the troubled genius at his crooning best, in my humble opinion. Obviously there are surprises around every corner; and good ones at that, with the smoother alternate take on You’re The Man having a super-cool back-beat, which is guaranteed to get yer Soul Shoes shuffling; as will Checking Out (Double Clutch) which surely influenced at least a dozen hit Soul-Pop songs in the intervening decades. I understand why they’ve been included as they come from the same sessions; but there’s always something really odd about listening to Christmas songs in March! I Want to Come Home For Christmas is a super song that will touch many hearts; but when you peel away the wrapping and realise it’s actually about a captured soldier (in Vietnam) singing to his sweetheart your heart will surely burst. I don’t normally associate Marvin Gaye with instrumentals so the rare b-side Christmas in the City; although ‘of its time’ is well worth the entry fee alone, as he sounds a very troubled man indeed. Selecting a Favourite Song here hasn’t been easy, as I’ve been swept up in the history of everything here more than once; but I’m going to throw two at you, the modern mambo beat of Woman of the World must have been groundbreaking in 1972; but leap forward to 2019 and Marvin’s prophetic words could easily be an anthem for Women all over the world. The other is actually a song I already knew; but tucked away here the heart-aching ballad Piece of Clay is heady stuff indeed and has stood the test of time as well as anything else Marvin has possibly ever recorded; and deserves to be a huge hit for our dear departed Marvin. Now I’ve played this album 4 times; I just think Marvin simply recorded them at the wrong time; if this album had been released before What’s Going On it would surely have been a hit and a natural lead in to what was coming; but I guess the ‘decision makers’ subsequently wanted Marvin to record a copy-cat follow up; and not this fascinating, mature and often very intelligent bunch of songs. God Bless Marvin for having the courage to initially record them; and the nice people at UMC/Island who have lovingly put everything together to celebrate what would have been Marvin Gaye’s 80th birthday in a package that I’m sure the singer would have been proud of.
Released 2LP Gatefold Vinyl and Digital 29th March 2019 Released CD April 2nd 2019.
Don Gordon’s Bandolier Bandolier Tales Self-Release
Pure Dead Quality From Start to Finish.
Don Gordon? Apparently an ex-member of Glaswegian band The Primevals and a long time collaborator with our chum Wily Bo; which hiked this release straight up the to-do list! Before I actually tell you about the wondrous music on this album, I have to tell you that it’s ‘not for everyone’ as Mrs. Magpie and her famous scowl will testify! But, if you enjoy singers who are blessed with larynx’s like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and two of Glasgow’s finest; Messr’s Alex Harvey & Dave Arcari you are gonna love these songs! The jangly guitar that leads into opening track September Rain will remind you of Teenage Fanclub at their height; but when Wily Bo enters the fray, drawling Don Gordon’s magnificent words with Louise Ward double-tracked on backing vocals; you know you aren’t in Kansas any more Toto. The song is really, really special in a way that defies categorisation….. is it the Blues? Sort of. Is it Rock? Not really, but maybe. Is it Contemporary Pop? Yessish; but add all three together and it’s the perfect introduction to Don Gordon’s Bandolier and the music that they create. That classy, enigmatic theme continues through Pictures of Lanark, a duet between Wily Bo and Louise which reminded me of those songs Nick Cave and Kylie recorded; but with a catchy melody. There are but 7 songs here and each is as memorable as each other, but invariably ‘different’ too; with the Bandoliers getting all smouldering and swampy on I Will Be There but turning Cryin’ Out into a thrill a minute car chase of a twisted Gospel song, and closing the album with Walking In The Past which sounds like it could have been the soundtrack to a Film-Noir LA Cop thriller; which features some extraordinary diesel powered bass and drumming from Clarky and The Rocket. This leaves but two other songs to talk about. Bandolier/Prayer whizzed me back to those nights when I would sit in my bedroom listening to the Sensational Alex Harvey Band on headphones; trying to make sense of the exciting and mesmerising sound that was filling my head. It’s the same here; if I tell you that it’s a sort of Epic Rock Song featuring The Doune & Deanston Pipe Band (them’s real bagpipes btw), Louise Ward sounding all floaty and siren like while Don Gordon makes his guitar strings sound like they are made from slithering snakeskin and Wily Bo partly sings through a decoder before summoning up the demons in our Souls you will think I’m mad….. but give it a listen; it’s bloody cracking! Then of course, there has to be my Favourite Song, and it was an easy selection. While possibly the most commercial song here Who’s Kissing You? not just fits in perfectly but stands out like a sunflower at noon too, as Gordon makes his guitar not just weep but bleed too as Clarky and The Rocket keep better time than a brand new Rolex, behind him and the glorious singers Wily Bo and Louise Ward. While I’m always flattered to receive albums by household names and even the occasional Superstar at RMHQ, but albums like this are not just the life blood of my site but the Music Industry too…… with ‘Quality’ being the word that kept coming into my head as every song came onto the stereo and again now, as I type.
Leftovers Perhaps, But Always Substantial and Never Second Rate.
When Michael Mcdermott sings “Misdeeds come with a pretty price to pay” in his song “Tell Tale Heart,” which leads off his latest album Orphans, you can tell he not only means it, he’s lived it. Sincerity is the toughest thing to pull off as a songwriter, especially since all songwriters are liars, distorters of the truth, and weavers of dream-stuff. (No matter what anyone says about country music being “three chords and the truth.”) You don’t have to tell the truth in a song, you just have to make your listeners believe that it’s true. Simple, yes. But hard as hell to successfully pull off. It helps if you have drive, and Michael McDermott is a true driven soul. He writes powerful songs, he’s not afraid to work hard to get his music out, he takes chances. This album is in no way modern country, nor 21st century pop, but that’s a good thing. I don’t know if it was McDermott himself or his producer who decided to go for the retro 1980’s production sounds on this album but I’m loving it. Little touches like the Edge-like guitar on “Tell Tale Heart,” or the kick drum on “Meadowlark,” or the keyboards on “Black Tree, Blue Sky,” and the jangly picking throughout on several tunes give a solid ambience of that foregone pop era. It’s been long enough, let the ’80s breathe again. “Sometimes When it Rains in Memphis” and “Givin’ up the Ghost” as well as “Tell Tale Heart” all manage to transcend their obvious Springsteen influence, mostly with McDermott’s heartfelt, gruff vocals and his fearlessness in referencing greats such as Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in his lyrics. These songs might be orphans, in that they were all originally leftovers from previous albums, but they’re not second rate. These songs are substantial. In this day and age, surely that alone is enough.
Glen Hansard has been part of my life in various guises since 1991 when he popped up as Outspan in Alan Parker’s film The Commitments. Since then, whether it be as The Frames, The Swell Season or under his own name, his music has been a constant in my life, sound tracking the good times and some of the harder times too.. What first struck me about this album even before I played it was how long some of the songs were with 5 of the 12 songs clocking in at over 6 minutes and a couple of those well over 7 minutes long. The press release references “classically trained Iranian musicians” and “spirit of openness to invention and experimentation” so I have to admit I wondered if this was a bit of change of direction for Glen, but I had nothing to fear, it is both of those things but is also very much a Glen Hansard Album and maybe, in my opinion, his best work yet. It opens with the lead track from the album I’ll Be You, Be Me, which starts with Glen quietly singing. As the song slowly builds the lyrics become stronger and the music grows behind the song until we are hit with wall of sound and distortion that engulfs the vocals and then leaves us as suddenly as it arrived. This format is repeated on the first 3 tracks of the album which gives them a real sense of grandeur and if I was to reference a track from The Waterboys these tracks are what Mike Scott sang about when he wrote ‘Big Music’. It’s not about being loud it’s the sheer scale of the songs, the layers of sound that build as the songs develop and surround you as you listen to them. The opening of the album demands your attention, this certainly isn’t background music. Those opening tracks make you stop what you are doing and listen, and I can find no higher compliment for music than that. After that first aural assault the album settles into a more familiar space but this doesn’t mean the quality lessens, as this album is beautifully crafted with touches of light and shade sprinkled across each track. I must mention my favourites, Brother’s Keeper and Fool’s Game which ends with the most beautiful of female vocals leaving you desperate for more. This album feels like Glen is pushing himself in new directions, expanding his songs that is often the highlight of his live shows, whilst maintaining the music that his fans know and love, a hard-balancing act but one he has done with impeccable guile and craft on this album.
Jim Lauderdale (starring Elizabeth Cook) The Secrets of the Pyramids Yep Roc
OOOOHHHHEEEEE! I arrived home late last night in a bit of a grumpy mood; but when I scrolled through my e-mails I stumbled on this announcement; not only is Jim Lauderdale releasing a new album in June, but there’s this single/video starring Miss Elizabeth Cook for me to share with y’all.
Lauderdale’s 32nd studio album, FROM ANOTHER WORLD sees him reuniting with the team behind last year’s acclaimed TIME FLIES, including co-producer/bassist Jay Weaver and GRAMMY® Award-winning engineer David Leonard (Prince, John Mellencamp, Toto). A dynamic mix of solo gems and collaborations with such like-minded co-writers as country legendMelba Montgomery, award-winning producer-songwriter Buddy Cannon, and emerging Americana star Logan Ledger, the 12-song LP represents Lauderdale’s antidote to the anger, divisiveness of today’s world, a world full of bad news and folks yelling at each other on CNN. From the hard-charging opener, ‘Some Horses Run Free,’ to the tender “Listen,” this is music from another world, a world of empathy, love, forgiveness and humility. Where people find freedom through togetherness, where they struggle to change for the better, where country music still cries with the sound of pedal steel guitar and psychedelic-tinged lyrics flow through aching indelible melodies.
RONNIE LANE JUST FOR A MOMENT (1973-1997) Universal Music
Ronnie Lane, Bass Player for the Small Faces and the Faces – Songwriter behind iconic songs such as Ooh La La, Itchycoo Park, The Poacher, Annie and Debris… In many ways Ronnie Lane remains an enigma in the story of rock ‘n’ roll. An artist who was determined to chart his own destiny and break free from the demands of the music “business”. His sense of disillusion with the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle led him to leave his hugely successful band for a ramshackle country farm (Fishpool) and a life on the road (of sorts…) He assembled a new band – Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance – and would create The Passing Show – a now legendary circus tent tour of the country with assorted clowns, acrobats and comedians… To further his ambition to do as he pleased musically, he built his own recording studio – The Lane Mobile Studio – itself an icon in the history of rock recordings.
Ronnie created a sound that was unique in British music – a style that leaned heavily on an array of influences particularly folk, country music and later r’n’b with welcome contributions from the band of musicians he surrounded himself with. Ronnie was not alone in his rural idyll – many friends would join him in his new artistic endeavours – Gallagher and Lyle, Kevin Westlake, Billy Livesey as well as Ronnie Wood, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton (the latter wrote Wonderful Tonight round the fire at Ronnie’s Fishpool Farm). Eventually the symptoms of MS would surface and in the 80s Ronnie would move to Austin, Texas where he still wrote and performed up until his death in 1997.
Ronnie Lane is one of the finest songwriters the UK has produced. This is the first time that a fully comprehensive look at Ronnie’s post Faces career has been undertaken. Just For A Moment 1973-1997 collates the solo and collaborative work of this prodigious and much missed wordsmith. As Pete Townshend surmises, “Here, in these songs, collected with such love and care, he is found again. Probably at the height of his rebellious and chaotic powers, where music had to be immediate and uplifting, or else heart-breaking – but always real.”
BOX HIGHLIGHTS It includes Ronnie’s 4 solo albums – Anymore For Anymore (+ singles), Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, One For The Road and the cruelly underrated See Me. In addition, it features tracks from Ronnie’s Mahoney’s Last Stand soundtrack album with Ron Wood and Rough Mix with Pete Townshend. The final disc of the set focuses on Ronnie’s time in the US with live highlights and studio tracks never previously released. The set also featured lots of rare and unreleased material – be prepared to hear fantastic cover versions of The Wanderer, Rocket’ 69 and The Joint Is Jumpin’ – as well as unheard Ronnie compositions plus live recordings, tracks for the BBC and highlights from a legendary Rockpalast concert. The set is curated by long time musical associate of Ronnie’s, Slim Chancer musician Charlie Hart. Comprehensive sleeve-notes focus on Ronnie the musician, the songwriter, the collaborator and split the post ’73 period into three distinct parts. Writers are Paolo Hewitt, Kris Needs and Kent Benjamin covering Ronnie’s Austin years, whilst The Who’s Pete Townshend contributes a foreword on his former best friend and collaborator
Packaging – 6 discs housed in a hard-back book with outer slipcase. The package also includesa book of Ronnie’s lyrics and an A2 fold out poster.
It’s getting ever more closer and therefore exciting abounds here at RMHQ as the deadline for the release of the NEW JJ Cale album STAY AROUND on April 26th….. and here’s another teaser.
To celebrate the release of JJ Cale’s new album ‘Stay Around’ (26th April),Because Music will for the first time release vinyl pressings of four albums from his catalogue: ‘Closer To You’ (1994), ‘Guitar Man’ (1996), ‘Live’ (2001) and ‘To Tulsa and Back’ (2004). ‘Roll On’ will also be re-pressed after a long period out of print. The reissues will be released on the same day as the new album and will be available in limited heavyweight 180g black vinyl and CD. They are available now for pre-order. VINYL REISSUES PREORDER AVAILABLE HERE
‘Stay Around’ was compiled by those closest to Cale – Christine Lakeland Cale, and friend and longtime manager, Mike Kappus – and will be released on 26th April 26 (pre-orders are available now digitally and on CD & limited collector vinyl edition). The ‘Stay Around’ single will also be released in an exclusive 7″ vinyl for Record Store Day (13th April). The B-side features ‘Worrying Off Your Mind,’ a bonus track from 2009’s ‘Roll On.’ For the first time in a decade, listeners will be moved by a new collection of unreleased Cale songs, a feat that’s possible due to Cale’s modus operandi: in addition to regularly writing and recording new songs in his home studio, Cale would typically reserve outtakes from one album for later release on another. That resulted in a reserve of ready for release songs from which this album’s collection was drawn. In compiling ‘Stay Around,’ Christine pored over these songs, both studio and home recordings, that the public had never heard. The result is an album mixed and produced by Cale himself, left nearly untouched to leave, in Christine’s words, the “Cale Factor.” The only song not written by Cale is Christine’s ‘My Baby Blues,’ the first song she and Cale cut as a four-piece combo in Bradley’s Barn studio in 1977, the year they met.
Holy Moly & The Crackers Take a Bite Pink Lane Records
The New Wave of Folk-Punk, Straight Outta Heaton!
I can remember as if it was yesterday the first time I ever clapped eyes on Holy Moly & The Crackers. It was a very sunny Saturday afternoon at SummerTyne Festival and they blew everyone else out of the water with their eclectic mix of Folk Rock, Gypsy rhythms and Country Blues styled songs……. and I threw myself at their feet, virtually begging to interview them for the publication I was then writing for. A lot of water has flowed under the Tyne Bridge since that fateful day; with Holy Moly subsequently releasing two ‘critically acclaimed’ albums and selling out shows all across Europe and now playing ‘the big stages’ at Festivals. So with all of that history between us, absolutely nothing prepared me for their ‘new direction’……NOTHING! Previously the charismatic Conrad Bird was Singer #1; but here the rather beautiful Ruth Patterson throws down her velvet gauntlet on opening song, All I Got Is You, a heady mix of Indie, New Wave, Punk and a full on Spectortastic Wall of Sound! You aren’t even allowed to catch your breath before Ruth fires up the reactors again on Upside Down; a song that sounds like Blondie on Brown Ale and Uppers, with a side order of Grappelli influenced violin from Ruth herself! It’s not until track #4 Kiss Me Before You Go (with it’s classy Glitter Band drumbeat) before Mr. Bird is allowed in front of the microphone; and then he only plays the love lorn foil to the temptress that is Ms Patterson alongside him. I may have to come back to this song when I’m dishing out the Favourite Song accolade. It’s easy to hear that the constant touring has been the Holy Molies learning their apprenticeship the hard way; but with spiky and intelligently crafted songs like Take a Bite, which incorporates their collective love of World Music btw; Who Do You Think You Are and the ‘call to arms’, Sister you know they haven’t been wasting their time in the back of a transit van. They have been learning their craft, and learning how to pool their individual strengths into a collective talent that will blow many a headliner off the Festival Stage this coming Summer. You are eventually allowed to catch your breath; on the cinematic I’d Give It All which finds Ruth channelling her inner Shirley Bassey as the band show their intimate quality musicianship in the background. I realise that I’ve sounded all “goo-goo eyes” talking about Ruth Patterson’s singing and performing here; and that’s not out of place at all, because it’s been a helluva shock; but no surprise at all to finally hear her coming out of her shell and leading the band from up front and centre; but this is no solo album by any stretch of the imagination……no, no, NO! I’m pretty sure that this is the album Conrad Bird has dreamt of creating from Day #1; and his songwriting and trumpet playing are both exemplary from the outset, as is his understated rhythm guitar; plus the effervescent Rosie Bristow once renowned for hiding in the shadows on stage; but listen carefully and you will not hear a track here that isn’t all the better for inclusion….. Rosie sure rocks this much maligned instrument! Yet, drummer Tommy Evans and Bass player Jamie Shields manage to create a big ole noise while somehow never ever threatening to overshadow the singers; which is a talent many ‘big names’ could learn from. There’s yet another surprise for me in the inclusion of an actual lead guitarist, Nick Tyler who seems to take on the George Harrison role by supplying brilliantly understated solos that catch your attention; but allow the songs to flow ever so naturally. Phew….. that’s all a bit long-winded, even by my standards; but needs must, and all that. AHA! Favourite Song time; on any other album it would have to be the menacing Naked in Budapest, but that has Conrad Bird on lead vocals; and as Ruth has usurped my mate as Singerist #1 it would be rude not to choose one of hers; so the Official RMHQ Favourite Song is…… Through With Talking; a New Wave infused Punk Rocker, but with a Folk heart. What the Folk is going on here? Fans will no doubt ask. Wind yer necks in; these kids know exactly what they are doing and if you indulge them; as I have done, your life will be undoubtedly enriched by letting this album and this fantastic band into your life.
Hahahahaha…… there was very nearly an embarrassing mix up with this review; as I was reading a Press Release for something completely different as I played the album; and for the life of me couldn’t hear ‘duelling guitars’ or ‘duets of Gram and Emmylou proportions’…….. in any of the four songs I had written about! Thankfully I’m back on track now; and this album and review are both ‘The Real Deal’! As soon as you hear Bolander’s ‘world weary’ and greasy voice when it enters the fray on opening track Closer to the Flame you know you are in the presence of a really special singer. A claustrophobic Rock Ballad that straddles everyone from the Allman’s through Fleetwood Mac and Bob Seger with consummate ease; and he even throws in a cello just to give it some double-extra pathos too! In today’s market Eric Bolander is 100% Americana, with epic tales of life’s struggles, drug addiction, love, losing and winning back, as well as being ‘on the road’ but this guy most certainly has one foot back in the Classic Country Rock world I first inhabited back in the 1980’s and proudly wears that on his big heart. Bolander’s songwriting is extraordinary at times; as his use of metaphors spun my head at times; but also made me take copious notes for future reviews (wink). Check out Fly and Maybe I and you will hear words and melodies that defy the Kentuckian’s lowly place in the world of Country Music. While there’s a ‘big production’ on many of the songs here; it only ever supports Bolander’s stories and characterful voice; with The Road and Ghost being perfect examples of a singer and Producer being in perfect tune with each other. This also gives the album a sense of the highs and lows in his and our lives with some of the simpler acoustic songs really, really tugging on the heartstrings; with Whisper and the brooding and almost Southern Gothic Ghost both being worthy contenders for my Favourite Song accolade; perhaps one will get that title next week, when I listen again. I didn’t want to do this; especially as Eric Bolander is an exceptional songwriter in his own rite; but the actual winner of the Favourite Track stakes is his adaptation of Purple Rain; turning it into a belting Country Rocker without ever losing or tampering with any of Prince’s delicate nuances. I had been lost in the first four verses before I realised what song I was actually listening to; which is testament to Bolander’s richly expressive voice; and anyone who thinks adding a banjo to a Prince song should listen to this; and realise the diminutive one missed a trick on the original! There’s not a lot else to say really; I’m so happy that Eric Bolander and his album THE WIND are now in my life and I have the opportunity to share it with you guys and girls……. enjoy; you’re welcome.