The Popravinas
Zesty Smile Records

During the course of a year we get sent some rubbish; of course sometimes that music just isn’t ‘our bag…….. maaaan’, but far too often just under cooked and far too self-indulgent.
But occasionally, and especially during the Yuletide celebrations ‘rubbish’ can be done with not just panache, but elan too ……. with one such single being this, Where Are My Christmas Presents? by the poptastic Popravinas.
It’s already gone into a gloom-ridden playlist in the car, and will be a lovely ray of sunshine when it appears ……. as it will in your life too.

Ho Ho Ho Ho ……. ya bugger!

Bloodshot Records TOO LATE TO PRAY: (Defiant Chicago Roots)

Various Artists
Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots  (BSHQ 25th Anniversary Compilation)
Bloodshot Records

Here’s to Another 25 Years of Insurgent Country and Defiant Roots! Ching-Ching Chaps and Chapesses!

I’m an unadulterated fan of Bloodshot Records and starting with the LP ‘Straight Outta Boone County’ which I bought in a Public Library Sale for 50p, their compilations have been a constant source of discovering great new acts over the years !
Staggeringly, this offering is celebrating 25 years of Bloodshot Records and their ‘Insurgent Country Music’ roster, both old and new.
The ‘new’ comes right at ya, without any warning ……… when Wyatt Earp and The Free For Alls prove Honky-Tonk music can be as contemporary as any other category, while still retaining the magic that filled the airwaves back in the 50’s and 60’s with the gloriously feisty The Last Honky Tonk in Chicago.
Bloodshot have always had very obtuse and diverse musical tastes (much like us here) and their compilations always reflect that; daring to give us Folk and Lo-fi from acts like Half Gringa with their delicately constructed Wearing White, Joybird’s Sweetness and Bethany Thomas & Tawny Newsome whose Dinosaur is a left of centre Lo-Fi minor masterpiece that only Bloodshot would have the nerve to release.
Then they juxtapose these with Straight Up Country in every format known to the world; from The Hoyle Brother’s celebration of Twang on A Little Bit of Buck; and in another universe The Western Elston’s Everly Brothers sounding Toast That Lie would be played 24 hours a day on Country Hits Radio, and Brendan Kelly & the Wandering Birds manage to scare the neighbours with their grizzly Alt. nay …… ‘Insurgent’ Country ballad Lay Me Down.
This being Bloodshot there is also a host of new songs from old acts associated with this great label; Jon Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild go as left of centre as Country Music gets with the rollicking I Am a Big Town, and when I first heard Brett Sparks from The Handsome Family turning Leonard’s Tower of Song into a Western Swing Trip-Hop Gothic missive my heard spun 360 degrees; but do you know what? I’ve come back several times and it just gets cooler and cooler each time.
Two acts I saw on the back cover really excited me as I hadn’t heard anything from either in yonks; with Sway, Freakwater still have the ability to make two voices and a banjo hit you right between the eyes like virtually no other act in existence; the other is Kelly Hogan (who is the only woman in the world I would leave Mrs Magpie for) does what she does best; using her beautiful voice in a way we normally associate with Patsy Cline to not just break your heart; but mend it too with the shimmering Gotta Have My Baby Back. #swoon
With so many delights to choose from, it’s like being a kid on Christmas morning being asked “What is your favourite?” Do I pick the Honky-Tonking delights of Tammi Savoy & the Chris Casello Combo and If It’s News To You? or perhaps the mournful Alt. of Big Sadie? But then again Robbie Fulks’ Lonely Ain’t Hardly Alive is rather amazing too.
Okay …… I’ve picked one; but this more than likely will change tomorrow ……… ta da! The RMHQ Favourite Song on this outstanding compilation is ……… the best grungy Cowboy Movie theme tune never to make it onto the big screen ……. Los Galos and Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! RMHQ says play this song loud and be proud to support Insurgent glories!
Bloodshot Records  have gone and done it again; capturing the glory of everything I and I hope you love about Insurgent Country and Defiant Roots music in 22 fabulous songs; and long may they continue.

Released 8th November 2019
Buy it here

among the 22 runners and riders

Mike Zito & Friends ROCK AND ROLL (A Tribute to Chuck Berry)

Mike Zito & Friends
ROCK AND ROLL (A Tribute to Chuck Berry)
Ruf Records

It’s Only Rock and Roll…… But it Still Transcends The Generations!

Man Oh Man!
As a ‘man of a certain age’ it’s difficult to explain how excited I was when I slid this CD into the car stereo for the first time; and when that unmistakable ‘riff’ kick-started the first track I knew I was going to fall in love with Chuck Berry’s music all over again ……. but……. which song was going to follow that trademarked ‘killer riff’?
Ha ha ha ha ha!
In this case it’s St. Louis Blues; an odd start with so many other Classics available to capture the attention; but that is a very minor complaint.
Guitar player extraordinaire, producer to the Blues Rock hierarchy, occasional column write and man about town; Mike Zito has certainly recaptured the magic that thrilled teenagers in the 1950’s and then again my own generation in the 1970’s with not just care and love; but added rocket fuel!
St. Louis Blues, just like every other of the 21 tracks here has a ‘Guest Star’ on geetar and occasionally vocals; and the opener features Chuck’s Grandson Charles Berry III and it’s fair to say that the gene pool is as strong as ever.
Most of the Hits are here, starting with the title track Rock & Roll Music; featuring Joanna Conner and sounding as fiery and feisty as it must have done when it came blasting out of tin-pot transistors 60 years ago; and this is then followed by Zito alongside Walter Trout breathing fire and brimstone into Johnny B Goode!
Still only three tracks in and I was (and still am) breathless with excitement and my toes are tapping with absolutely no help from my brain!
While the accompanying ‘stars’ are well worth their mentions; this album is all about the music …….. and after all these years, showing what a great songwriter Charles Berry was ……. capturing the heart and mind in equal measures.
There are a couple of songs here I’ve only heard a couple of times over the years and a couple more I’ve never even heard before.
I Want To Be Your Driver? This Chicago stomper is brand new to me and simply sizzles with raw excitement; and not just from Ryan Perry and Mike Zito’s duelling guitars.
Downbound Train is another new one; and sounds nothing like Chuck Berry at all with it’s almost Country Rock spine and Alex Skolinick’s searing guitar solos as the rhythm section build up a head of steam like the Wabash Cannonball going downhill.
Of the rarer songs; Havana Moon sticks out like a lily in a cold black pond. So very atmospheric, it’s difficult to find the right words to describe the emotions these cats create on one of Berry’s latter-day gems; but I will give you a clue ……. Sonny Landreth plays slide.
What’s not to like about hearing freshly polished and gussied up renditions of Too Much Monkey Business, Maybellene, Reelin’ and a Rockin’ and of course, Brown Eyed Handsome Man ? When you find out that they feature Luther Dickinson, Richard Fortus, Tommy Castro, Kirk Fletcher and Josh Smith you know that quality is a ‘gimme!
As you will have already worked out Zito’s Friends are a heady mix of legends and up and coming players; and they all sound like they are having the time of their lives; which is exactly what Chuck Berry’s music has been a soundtrack to all these years.
Which brings us to my TWO Favourite songs here; and both get the accolade because these versions bring back happy memories of my early teenage days discovering music and all of the delights that accompany it.
No Particular Place to Go was one of the first 45’s I ever owned; given to me by my late Sister-in-Law Mary, I can still remember that night sitting open mouthed staring at my record player as the tiny piece of vinyl spun around and around, changing my life forever.
Kids today with their never ending Spotify playlists will never understand why ‘our’ generation get so excited and defensive about songs and artists like this.
The other Favourite Song had Mrs Magpie sighing and raising her eyebrows to the Heavens as I regaled her with my Angelic harmonies on …………. My Ding a Ling!
Oh, do calm down dear!
Stop being a bloody snob!
I loved this song when it first came out and when I got the DJ to play it at my 1972 school Xmas Disco the floor filled with as many boys as girls for the first and possibly last time!!
I defy you to play this song and not lip-sync the lyrics ……. it’s so addictive …….. altogether now ……….
“When I was a little bitty boy
My Grandmother bought me a cute little toy
Silver bells hanging on a string
She told me it was my ………”
I knew you would ……. hahahahaha.

There you have it, the power of music that can transcend generations. I doubt today’s teens will be sharing Little Mix or Blake Shelton songs with their Great Grandchildren in 60 years time; but these Chuck Berry songs will be shared across the age groups in the coming months and years too, hopefully even taking Zito and Friend’s younger fans back to Chuck Berry’s original versions too as pre-schools and over 70’s duck-walk around the living room.

And again ……….
“When I was a little bitty boy ………..”

Released November 1st 2019

Black Stone Cherry BLACK TO THE BLUES Vol II

Black Stone Cherry
Mascot Label

Classic Blues Songs But Now With Added Fire and Brimstone.

Even though I liked Vol I a whole lot, this little doozy very nearly passed me by as I’ve had a backlog of albums to review and wasn’t really in the mood for LOUD MUSIC ….. until Tuesday.
A long and sweaty shift at work called for something nasty on the car stereo for the midnight drive home and this was the only thing that fit the bill on my phone.
Hallelujah! Brothers and Sisters …….. my cobwebs were blown away long before Black Stone Cherry’s violent remake/remodel of Freddie King’s Big Legged Woman had come anywhere near ending!
This meant track 2, Me & The Devil Blues was for fun alone …… and if you like your fun dressed in leather and lace; then this song is most definitely for you.
I keep telling people that ‘I have grown out of Rock Music’; then I find myself immersing myself in things like this.
As with Vol I Chris Robertson and Friends have plundered their respective record collections for a bunch of songs that are occasionally Classics and sometimes as rare as hen’s teeth; but always the type of song Blues aficionados of all shapes and sizes will drool over.
I probably have Otis Rush’s All Your Love (I Miss Loving) somewhere; but I know for sure it sounds nothing at all like this low down and dirty rocker; but as with their Heavy, almost Led Zepplinesque reworking on Wolf’s Down In The Bottom, what’s the point in covering a song if you just join the dots note by note?
Elmore James’ Early One Morning retains it’s foot stompin’ beat; but Oh Lordy Lord, do BSC pump it full of adrenaline, power and joy.
Then; and it’s as if these kids know what they are doing …… they keep the best for last!
Is there such a thing as a bad version of Death Letter Blues? I can’t think of one, if there is but Black Stone Cherry manage to take this 100 year old classic into a whole new stratosphere; then bring it on home baby in a way I’ve not heard since my teenage years.
Six tracks long and deep; but each one has been lovingly recreated with nods to the originals; but at the end of the day always, always, always unmistakably Black Stone Cherry!

Released October 18th 2019

Annie Dressner NYACK (Single)

Annie Dressner

It’s all been a bit crazy this week at RMHQ with little or no time to listen to new music ……. then along came this! The new single from a favourite singer-songwriter of ours Ms Annie Dressner and it’s hardly been off the car stereo and office hi-fi! There’s not a lot to say about it other than it’s a taster for a new album in the New Year and it’s BLOODY LOVELY!
Enjoy and seek out her other recordings.

Released 1st November 2019

Ags Connolly WRONG AGAIN

Ags Connolly
Wrong Again
Self-Release/At The Helm

The Most Authentic Honky and Tonkiest Country Songs Ever Produced in England.

Ags Connolly; real name …… do you know what? I’ve known Mr Connolly for several years now and don’t know what ‘Ags’ is short for; if indeed it is a shortened version …… maybe it’s a nickname or maybe he was actually christened Ags; perhaps we will never know.
Arguably Britain’s Favourite Country Troubadour, this is Connolly’s third album and without spoiling the surprise; probably sounds the way he dreamt of when he was but a lad listening to his Country and Honky Tonk Heroes in his teenage Oxfordshire bedroom.
While as far from an overblown production a you can get; there’s a much clearer and bigger sound here than I remember from his previous releases. Starting with the authentic Twang of opening track I’ll Say When; which features Mavericks’ accordionist Michael Guerra giving an already great song some added class.
Probably because he sounds like he’s making the kind of music he loves, rather than music that will get him airplay; Ags brings a pathos and humanity to Lonely Nights in Austin and Indian Sign that is as surprising as it is expected. Confused? If you see him play live you will know what Ags Connolly is capable of when he sings a song; but actually capturing that magic on record? Well he has ……. and more than just these two songs too.
Ags can certainly write a cool song; but here there’s something different ……. he’s delved even deeper than usual on the dance tune The Meaning of The Word and later on Say It Out Loud he sounds like a man on the edge; and the melody is just what you’d hope to hear were you to stumble into a rough and tough Border Town cantina one sad and lonely night.
Perhaps it’s because there’s been a lot of competition across the Countrypolitain World in the last two years that Ags has had to ‘up his game’ but not just the melodies; but the songs and stories themselves are all top of the class; with the gorgeous Sad Song Forever and What Were You Going To Do About It? both being exceptional for an English singer-songwriter, as both are so ‘believable’ and sound like they’ve been hiked out of some long forgotten songbook; rather than being typed up on an I-Pad!
HANG ON THERE! I thought the first time I played this album; as I instantly recognised one song …… a cover version indeed! Not something I normally associate with this young man; but his treatment of Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain sits in here quite seamlessly and it’s sad to say; many younger listeners probably won’t know it’s providence …… so a great choice as well.
The ‘best song’ doesn’t have to actually be your favourite; does it? Favourite Songs come in many shapes and sizes; and are favourites because they touch your heart and/or brain in some unimaginable way ….. which is how I feel about the title track Wrong Again (Lose a Life) which took my breath away the first time I played it a month ago and still sounds like one of the 45’s you’d sit by the radio praying would come on next.
It is perfectly constructed with lush harmonies, pedal-steel, Twangtastic guitars, rat-a-tat drumming and a rock solid bass combo, as well as featuring Eamon McLaughlin’s steller fiddle playing ….. then add Connolly’s trademark ‘world weary’ vocals and you have a Country Song that much more famous singers dream of recording.
Apart from thoroughly enjoying this album; I’m simply thrilled that my friend has had the opportunity to sing his songs in such esteemed company; and company that brings out the best in him ……… now hopefully World Domination is finally on the horizon ……. or at least an invite to Country 2 Country, as this record is more Country than any of the names I recognise on the 2020 poster!

Released November 1st 2019

The Kinks ARTHUR the 50th Anniversary (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

The Kinks
Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

Fifty years ago the British rock band the Kinks released their groundbreaking album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). This was way back in the beginning of the era of concept albums and rock operas (you may recall a band called the Who and their album Tommy, for one), and Ray Davies’ songs were well-suited for this particular approach. Their previous album, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, showed the band moving away from trying to be nothing more than a hit-maker and shifting into more a “grown-up” band, and Arthur continued that idea, showing that not only was rock ‘n’ roll here to stay, it was evolving into a much more adult and intelligent medium, along with some help from songwriters like the Kinks’ Ray Davies.

Originally planned as a teleplay for Granada Television in the UK—although the television plans fell through after nearly a full year of planning—Arthur is the story of a British carpet-layer who moves to Australia after World War II (based on Davies’ real-life brother-in-law) as much as it’s about how Britain had been changing since World War II. The Britain that Davies had grown up with was quickly changing and Davies felt like documenting this in song. 

Davies was only 25 years old when this album was released, although already one of rock’s top notch songwriters. Heck, he’s one of those songwriters who could decide to write a concept album on the telephone book and it would be well thought out, perfectly planned, completely balanced, and still rock your socks off. I’m pleased to announce that Arthur still holds up very well fifty years on. The ear worm that is “Victoria” is deliciously pleasant, with a decidedly upbeat and rockin’ rhythm guitar, “Drivin'” and “Shangri-La” propel the story along with sharp wit and Davies’ usual ear for those little things that add up to tell a story. “Mr. Churchill Says” is full of actual quotes from Winston Churchill himself, lines which nearly every Brit would have known well at the time.

The songs throughout are solid and rockin’ and for the anniversary release we get newly mastered mono and stereo tracks, demos, live BBC recordings, and the long missing solo album from Dave Davies which was recorded around the same time but never released. Personally, I love hearing demo versions and alternate tracks but I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, and at over 80 tracks, that’s a lotta songs to listen to, so anyone who’s a completest when it comes to box sets, shouldn’t have anything to complain about, especially with a booklet of interviews from all the key players at the time and loads of extra artwork. And hey, if that’s a bit much, you can get a smaller version in vinyl or CD format.

Courtesy the Legendary Roy Peak.

RELEASED October 25th 2019

Rob Vincent THIS TOWN (Video Single)

Rob Vincent
This Town (Single)

Being the contrary soul I am; it’s been a bit of challenge in the last year with our friend, Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Robert Vincent becoming the latest ‘darling of the populist press’ and even being tagged ‘the next big thing’ in several publications ……….. RMHQ told you all that TWO FLIPPIN’ YEARS AGO!!
But; we still know talent when we hear it and we are sticking with him …. until he’s headlining Glastonbury, then we will drop him like a stone! So it’s with giddy excitement that we share the first single from the forthcoming album to be released on February 14th 2020.

Big Boy Bloater at The Black Bull, Gateshead

Big Boy Bloater
The Black Bull
25th October 2019

For a variety of reasons I’ve had to miss Big Boy Bloaters last two visits to the region; but this being my Friday off work and the opportunity to see him play in an iconic Punk venue was too good to miss!
With no support act I arrived at 10 to 9 just as a very dapper looking Bloater was buying a pint. We said ‘hello’ but with the other two Limits already on stage there wasn’t any time for chit chat.
It never stops being funny watching the headline act have to push their way through the crowd to get on stage; and that’s just happened tonight ……. their little face were an absolute picture.
With no other intro the trio opened with a spooky instrumental before going into Saturday Night Desperation Shuffle, which quickly had a couple of ladies dancing along to the sharp beat.
If you don’t already know him, Big Boy Bloater is the last in a proud lineage of British Rhythm and Blues acts; great and often catchy songs with danceable beats as well as razor sharp guitar solos dotted around; often catching you unawares and always leaving you dazzled and impressed.
Predominantly giving us a selection of songs from last year’s release PILLS the band were on fire for a solid hour and forty minutes, with my notes saying Insanely Happy, Leonard Cohen and Banging My Head (Against the Wall) were all stand out songs.
But, boy can Bloater tell a story or two too in his intros, which helped make That Ain’t My Name and Nasty Little Rash as gigglicious as they are danceable.
Now; this being a) Friday night and b) a Big Boy Bloater gig, and with songs like Friday Nights Alright For Drinking, Sweet & Brown and Messin’ With The Booze, ‘drinking’ was an ongoing theme all night with Bloater prefacing each song with “let’s have a little drink,” taking a sip of lager and then ‘Cheers Everyone’ …….. which was reciprocated by the effervescent crowd made up of all ages and apparent musical affiliations.
One of the main things I love about Big Boy Bloaters albums is that he often takes a sideways look at life and love, which gives us belters like Robot Girlfriend and It Came From the Swamp both of which had the ladies around me dancing into a frenzy while a bunch of lads at the back added ‘harmonies’ ……. or something like that!
The night ended with A Devil Not an Angel, the 17th song of the evening and the pub was rocked to its foundations by a powerhouse trio and a frenzied stomping audience.
Last but not least, while his name was on the tickets credit must also go out to drummer Matt Cowley and bassist Steve Oates who were outstanding and their soundman wandering around with an I-Pad was a legend in his own rites!
I’ve been to a lot of gigs over the years, both large and small but very few of them were ever as exciting and intimate as this ……….. just a shame there weren’t more ‘younger people’ there.

Single of the Week Matt McGinn (ft. Ciara O’Neill) BUBBLEGUM

Matt McGinn (ft. Ciara O’Neill)

Singles come in many shapes and sizes; and as a ‘man of a certain age’ still hold a special place in my heart …….which I think is where this particular beautiful tome is destined to stay anyway.
In theory it’s a ‘taster’ for the forthcoming album LESSONS OF WAR by Northern Irish singer-songwriter, and Friend of RMHQ, Matt McGinn ………. but ……… even taken out of context, it is an absolutely stunning piece of work.
I’ve been a huge supporter of Northern Irish music since first discovering Energy Orchard (starring Bap Kennedy) several decades ago; and something that has surprised me is how rarely any of the generation who grew up around the Troubles ever write songs about that time; or perhaps it isn’t a surprise at all as ‘time is something of a healer.’
But, when they do, there is always a terrible beauty about their heartfelt outpourings …… and woah there ……. using the Schoolgirl diaries of Bronagh McAtasney (@NrnIrnGirl1981) as a starting point, does Matt McGinn and Mick Flannery capture the day to day minutiae of a teenage girl’s day in Northern Ireland at that time with grace, providence and and a huge amount of Soul.

RELEASED November 9th 2011

Here’s what they themselves say about the song:

Matt recalls:

 “In a writing session one day with [Irish Songwriter] Mick Flannery, I told him about an interview I’d heard on RTE Radio on the journey down. It was a lady from the North reading from her teenage diary and it was amazing how her everyday teenage experiences were surrounded by the darkness of ‘The Troubles’. It was enough to start myself and Mick off and it wasn’t long before ‘Bubblegum’ was finished.”

Matt asked friend and fellow Co. Down songwriter Ciara O’Neill to help out on vocals.

“It’s a bit weird ‘not singing’ one of my own songs on my own album, but I have always loved the purity of Ciara’s voice. It made sense to get her involved as the song is from the point of view of a young woman. As soon as I heard her sing it, I knew I’d made the right decision”

Matt also approached Vyvienne Long to play cello on ‘Bubblegum’

“I have loved Vyvienne’s playing since the first time I heard ‘O’ {Damian Rice}. I was delighted that she got what the song was about and was happy to play on it.”

‘Lessons of War’ – the Album

Bubblegum is the lead single from the forthcoming 4th studio album ‘Lessons of War’. The album sees Matt collaborate with musicians from war affected areas across the world for a stunning collection of songs that explore the futility of war, its horrors, its affects, and after affects.

 “I didn’t mean to write an album of anti-war songs, it just kind of happened. The first time I saw the image of the young refugee washed up on the shore, it triggered something in me. I felt I had to do something, and writing was all I could do.”

In 2016, with help from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Matt set about reaching out to musicians from areas across the world that had been scarred by conflict. It was to be the beginning of an incredible three-year journey that took Matt, from his home in the Mourne Mountains, to working with some of the most incredible individuals.

One of the key collaborators on the album is Yazan Ibrahim, a young virtuosi Flamenco Guitarist from the Golan Heights, occupied territory that borders Syria who Matt found through friend and ex-Energy Orchard member, Joby Fox, and brought to Ireland. Over five days they wrote and recorded anti-war songs, designed to try and show mistakes of the past in the hope they might never be repeated

Other contributions on the album came from Citizens of the World, a London based choir of refugees from all over the world; Seydu a percussionist and philanthropist from Sierra Leone; Richard Moore a guitarist and producer from Derry who was blinded by a plastic bullet, aged 11 and Mark Kelly, a band manager and music engineer who lost his legs in a bomb blast.

Belfast filmmaker Colm Laverty was on hand to capture much of what happened over these years and has created a documentary, also titled ‘Lessons of War’, soon to be released.