Where to start? The cover artwork I guess. If I’d been idly flicking through the racks of a record shop and stumbled on this, I’m pretty sure I’d have picked it up, then following a cursory scan of the cool song titles, I’d have looked inside the gatefold to see a photo-of the band; three scoundrels wearing shades and looking like hired in hit-men on the Sopranos; and hell’s teeth ….. Eric Von Herzon’s smile alone sent a shiver down my spine. Of course, by this stage I’m obviously going to like whatever music they play….. and when the sizzling instrumental opener Cuttin’ Deep sashayed out of the shops speakers I would have gleefully handed over my £10 and scurried back home with indecent haste to listen to the rest; and I certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed. The 44’s have been around the LA Blues scene for 20+ years and the only common thread appears to be head honcho Johnny Main who is very much the lynch pin of this dynamic trio’s very own version of Chicago Blues. Not for the first; or I hope the last time this year, this is the type of music that I travelled miles to see in my late teens and early 20’s; raw Juke Joint Blues that shakes your soul when done right; and boy oh boy do The 44’s do it right. Across the 8 songs here, the band cover a wide variety of emotions with the songs they’ve selected to cover; with only a couple of titles already being known to me …… Howlin’ Wolf’s Howlin’ and Muddy’s Champagne and Reefer, and singer Johnny Main brings both to life in a way I’d forgot was possible; and his guitar playing literally sounds like sparks were flying across the studio, and when Von Herzon blows that harp …… oohhheee…….. memories of seeing a young Paul Lamb in the Blues Burglars ripping it up at the *Broken Doll (Newcastle) immediatly came to mind. Be under no illusions, The 44’s ain’t no ordinary covers band, stuck in the 50’s playing Classics to drunks and losers; they are as deep as the ocean and as sharp as a box of tacks. Rosie takes us on a midnight ramble, with Mains letting rip on his geetar, while the band (inc. drummer Gary Ferguson) keep the beat like a steam-powered Rolex watch in the background; and with Sugar You they conjure up the intense excitement only encountered during the heights of seduction; making your heart and pulse pump in tandem until you think you’re having a heart attack! (or was that just me?) Usually bands like this ‘lose something’ in the studio; but no, no, no ……The 44’s simply buzz with excitement and raw adrenaline on every single track here; especially on 44’s Shuffle which closes the all too short album; and the low down ‘n dirty Helsinki Blues which is by far and away the RMHQ Favourite Track here; and one I can’t wait to play after midnight in the car on my way home from work next week. While The 44’s are very much their own distinctive variant on ‘Old School R&B’, they remind me of two very famous bands in their formative years …… The Rolling Stones and ZZ Top; when both where cutting their teeth and playing music just for fun and fun alone.
*The now demolished Broken Doll was, and still remains the greatest ever pub and music venue in Newcastle, with a clientele of Biker Dudes, office workers, down and outs, skinheads, dope heads …. and me!
Break Out The Brylcreem and Rev Up The Rat Rod ….. They’re Back!!!!
What’s left to say about The Stray Cats, apart from…….. why has taken 26 bloody years to get back together and record an album????? I guess I know the answer, as all three founder members have gone on to have fairly succesful post-Cats careers; especially Brian Setzer with the variants on his ‘Orchestra’, but Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker have had their own moments in the spotlight too over the last quarter century too; but does anything really compare to The Stray Cats in full flow? The fabulous single Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me) simply fizzes with teenage hormones; and I can’t think of any better way to get this particular party started, with all three cats coming together like the coolest gang in town; the type that scares you a little bit, but makes you want to be their mates too. What the Hell’s not to like about good time greasy Rock & Roll? For a three piece band, with very limited instrumentation The Stray Cats really can kick up a mighty fine ruckus; but in a seamlessly classy way too, with Three’s a Charm, Mean Pickin’ Mama and Devil Train all crossing the boundary that makes you wonder if this is Rockabilly or Honky-Tonk Country ……. but that’s where this glorious type of music came from isn’t it? Then when Setzer sets his guitar to stun on I Attract Trouble, there’s even a hint of Dick Dale’s Surf classics in the mix too; and with the Psycho Blues mash-up Cry Danger and the sexually swaggering R&B of Rock It Off and That’s Messed Up The Stray Cats really do prove Rock and Roll really is the bastard child of popular music! Every single track here could easily have been a Hit Single in every decade from the 1950’s until now; and I can give you an articulate argument as to why we need this music today more than ever before! Which all brings me to my two Favourite Tracks, the Hank B Marvin aka The Shadows influenced instrumental Desperado is not just timeless, but futuristic too and really does showcase what excellent musicians this undervalued trio really are; and the other is the feisty I’ve Got Love If You Want It, which obviously nods in the direction of our favourite ever Rockers Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Elvis (especially the way Setzer sneers a couple of line) but this is ultimately the best Stray Cats song since Sexy and 17 IMHO. It’s a bit weird that a band like this can come full circle after 40 years in the business (hence the title 40) and sound not just as sharp as a cut-throat razor but with this bunch of well written, well constructed and fundamentally danceably fun songs ……. be just as relevant and necessary today in 2019 than ever before.
RJ Cowdery What If This Is All There Is? Goose Pie Music
Robustly Delicate Songs From the Country/Folk Axis.
It appears RJ Cowdery from Columbia, Iowa is one of those ‘wandering troubadour’ musicians who has a list of Festival Appearances, Songwriting Competitions, support slots and house concerts as long as your arm; and then some; yet is still flying under the musical radar; which greatly saddens me. She is far from alone in that regard; but when I see and hear some of the ‘over night’ wonders in our little world, I truly despair at the state of the music industry. But; and this may be naive on my behalf; but I firmly believe talent will always win through …… just sometimes you have to wait a bit longer than you deserve. Why do I feel this way? Listen to the first song here; Somewhere A Place and you will hear a woman who can weave golden textures through a sad old love song; and sing it with a voice that is both ‘world weary’ and hopeful at the same time. RJ treads the path that is part Americana, part Roots, Part Folk and a whole lotta Country with ease on her insightful and perceptive songs, taking us on some kind of personal journey that will capture both your heart and imagination when she powers through Broken Wheel then drags things down to raw basics with Is There Time and Secrets of My Dreams. We’ve all seen a lot of singer-songwriters like RJ Cowdrey in our time; but very few have a canon of songs this sharply observed and coupled to imaginative melodies that will make you feel like you’ve known them all of your life. RJ Cowdrey has this quality in Shotgun Rider and the heartfelt title track What If This Is All There Is? I’ve racked my brains, as I was sure I’d heard both songs before ….. but no sirree, these and everything else here are brand new and shiny just for this album. Then, there are two very, very special songs here that definitely deserve a worldwide audience; her interpretation of Josh Ritter’s Girl in the War is absolutely heartbreaking, and I hope Josh finds it half as beautiful as I have done. The other is Lost & Found, and finds itself the RMHQ Favourite Song here, with the opening verse sending a shiver down my spine; “Here we are, falling stars looking for a place to land Not really knowing where we’re going holding on best that we can Like two old birds, mincing words scratching round’ the back yard Talking life and sacrifice we’re only as strong as our parts Oh what a journey such a hurry Let’s slow this whole thing down Take a back road you and me we’re on our own.” It’s been difficult to try and pin down where RJ Cowdrey fits in; as she writes a song that could easily be found on a Joan Baez or even Emmylou Harris album; as she can conjure up images in the mould of Lucinda or perhaps even Ashley McBryde but also Amy Space too, who coincidentally (?) produced the record ; but I also imagine she has spent a lot of time listening to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson too…… ultimately dissecting each until she has found her very own style; and one she should be rightly proud of.
Bruce Springsteen There Goes My Miracle (Single/video) Columbia Records
Just like London busses, you wait ages for a new Bruce Springsteen single and just as you are ‘getting on board’ ……. another one comes along straight after it! My first thought? I like it …… and it sounds like he’s channelling his inner Roy Orbison, in both words and deeds.
” Columbia Records will release ‘Western Stars’, Springsteen’s 19th studio album, on 14th June. The 13 tracks of Western Stars were recorded primarily at Springsteen’s home studio in New Jersey, with additional recording in California and New York, and encompass a sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope. Ron Aniello produced Western Stars with Springsteen, and the album’s musical arrangements include strings, horns, pedal steel and contributions from more than 20 other players. “This record is a return to my solo recordings featuring character driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements,” says Springsteen. “It’s a jewel box of a record.”
Springsteen’s first new studio album in five years takes his music to a new place, drawing inspiration in part from the Southern California pop records of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. ‘Western Stars’ is available for pre-order now here. ‘Western Stars’ track listing 1. Hitch Hikin’ 2. The Wayfarer 3. Tucson Train 4. Western Stars 5. Sleepy Joe’s Café 6. Drive Fast (The Stuntman) 7. Chasin’ Wild Horses 8. Sundown 9. Somewhere North of Nashville 10. Stones 11. There Goes My Miracle 12. Hello Sunshine 13. Moonlight Motel All songs written by Bruce Springsteen.
Spirit Family Reunion One Way Ticket (Single/Video)
I’ve got two very disparate friends in America who have both raved Spirit Family Reunion for many years now; even going back to my days writing for a very prestigious ‘on-line’ magazine/website, when, sadly; I was never on their mailing list…… until now! But now, with this punchy Southern Revival flavoured slice of Hill Country single which serves as the announcement for their new album ‘Ride Free,’ the first in four years; I can really see why Bob and Jason have been mythering me to get on the bandwagon. (A quick listen to the album over breakfast only cements that view btw). This is a really special band, one that uplifts with every show. They’ve done a Tiny Desk Concert, played Newport Folk Fest three times as well as Austin City Limits, toured with Levon Helm and Hurray for the Riff Riff, earned well over two million Spotify plays, and are now celebrating their 10th anniversary as a band.
One Way Ticket released Friday 17th 2019 ‘Ride Free’ comes out August 9th 2019.
Mature, Stylish, Graceful and Classy Songs of the Heart.
It appears that singer-songwriter Dan Navarro was a big deal in the USA Music Biz in the 1980’s and 90’s as one half of a duo called Lowen & Navarro (14 albums in 20 years must count for something!) plus he had a hand in writing quite a few hit songs too…… yet I’ve never heard of him, until now…… his debut solo album in 2019. In fairness, now I’ve played SHED MY SKIN a couple of times I’m more than happy to make this a starting point; as he not only writes an interesting song; he has a husky and ‘world weary’ voice that hooked me in right from the first verse of opening track, Shed My Skin. Much like the album itself; this song sits comfortably alongside many of the artists that came out of Laurel Canyon in the 60’s and 70’s; but also the tightly wrapped music that came from Townes Van Zandt and his merry band in the early 70’s. While many of those songwriters were ‘old beyond their years’ Dan Navarro writes his songs after a ‘life well lived’ and with the wisdom that can only be found, ‘looking back;’ which is what makes Straight To The Heart of Me and Ghosts very special indeed; as each demand your time and effort to get the best from them. For a Singer-Songwriter album that sounds quite simple and easy on the ear; Navarro gets to thank a multitude of people for their help in the making of the record; but thanks to Steve Postell’s mixing and producing nothing ever gets to take you away from Navorro’s heartfelt approach to his bittersweet love songs Bulletproof Heart, Hard For Me Now and especially the cinematic and claustrophobic Let Her Ride too. For an Americana album like this, Navarro includes two fascinating choices of cover songs; Billy Idol’s Sweet Sixteen which now becomes a mean ‘n moody Acoustic Rocker, which I didn’t recognise at all, partly because it now includes some amazing fiddle from Aubrey Richmond, Dobro from Doug Cox and some sensual and breathy harmonies from Grace Pettis (what’s not to like?) and the other gets to close the album; a fairly maudlin rendition of Wichita Linesman which just about perfectly closes the proceedings. Although I’ve been smitten by both those songs, two others have totally captured my heart; the lucid Arrows which conjures up it’s own windswept imagery in a way I’d normally associate with someone like Jackson Browne; and the other is the song that actually is my Favourite Song Here; You Drove Me Crazy, an intensely powerful duet with Janiva Magness that really proves Navarro’s songwriting is up there with the very best; and the way that the accordion, guitars and mandolin interweave behind their voices is quite unnerving at times yet incredibly beautiful at the same time. As I alluded to earlier; Dan Navarro’s songs are all pulled from a world of experiences that only a ‘man of a certain age’ can attain and articulate; and Dan Navarro does it with style, grace and class.
Howlin’ Ric & The Rocketeers You’re Lovin’ Days Are Through (Single) Gin House Records
WAHAY! We loved their demos a couple of years ago; and in the intervening time Howlin’ Ric and the Rocketeers appear to have been on the road day and night delivering their own blend of high energy and very danceable R&B drenched Rock and Roll to clubs and theatres the length and breadth of the UK! The band were in touch last week giving us a shiny new copy (well, a download actually!) of this, their first single You’re Lovin’ Days Are Over/Sweet Ella Mae from the forthcoming debut LP WAITING BY THE DANCEFLOOR!
Honeyed and Husky Jazz-Lite For The Younger Generation.
I wasn’t sure what to make of Lady Nade when I first played this album. In part that’s because it’s got a quite commercial ‘sound’ to it and very Jazzy in parts too; but why, pray, I now think, should that be a problem? The more I’ve played SAFE PLACE, the more it’s grown on me; especially now that the sun is shining. The bouncy Looking For Love gets the show on the road in a way Joan Armatrading did many moons ago, mixing clever songwriting with a ‘pop’ back-beat, supplied; it has to be said, by some ingenious musicians, who may be ‘Jazzers’ at heart but certainly not afraid of a melody. ‘That’ description is also fitting for a few more songs here; most notably Please You, Natalie and especially the wonderful title track Safe Place too. While Paul Isaac and Daniel Everett’s production makes just about every song ‘radio friendly (and that’s no bad thing btw) it doesn’t take too much of a stretch to think that the songs Sweet Honey Bee and the electro-pop of Keep Our Love Alive can be easily stripped back to join the acoustic tracks Half Empty and Heart of Mine and become both heart-stoppers AND showstoppers when Lady Nade performs then in concert, without the aid of any electronic wizardry. With so much filling the senses among these 15 (FIFTEEN!) songs, and often sweeping from genre to genre with consummate ease choosing a Favourite isn’t easy; with the final two epic songs Heart Beats Strong (Part I) takes Lady Nade very close to Sade territory, so therefore has to be a contenders as do La La Larve ( A Deja Vu Refrain) and Drive Home Safely where she turns herself into something of a Jazz Diva in the mould of Cleo Laine (and not a million miles from where I thought Amy Winehouse was headed) but I’m going for a different song with Please You; which combines all that is best here and not just Lady Nade’s sonic songwriting; but the way she uses her voice to feel like a velvet fog of emotion. Now I’m deep into these songs, I’m not sure which appeals to me most; Lady Nade’s intricate and heartfelt songwriting or her warm and husky voice and when you put the pair together, music lovers of all persuasions are onto a winner.
Sam Slatcher & The Sanctuary Seekers STORIES OF SANCTUARY Self Release
Two Cultures Clash To Create Beautiful Music.
Last week I reviewed an album full of artists from my region; and specifically Co. Durham called WHAT IF? by RT Project and concerning ‘crisis and depression’ which blights all ages. One of the acts, Sam Slatcher subsequently got in touch to thank me; and then slipped into the conversation that he was also involved with another project concerning a group of Syrian Refugees who have settled in and around Durham. Who was I to say ‘no’ when he offered a copy? Suffice to say, I’ve sat mesmerised today listening to these ‘tracks’; as not everything here is a song; and it’s fair to say it’s far from ‘easy-listening’ as several songs are written by and performed in the artist’s native language; but culled together STORIES OF SANCTUARY is a fascinating record. The effortlessly charming So May We Find Peace opens the album; with Sam himself singing over a traditional Syrian drum and guitar beat and a choir of children who alternate their choruses between English and Syrian; this is followed by Slatcher singing the first of two versions of City of Sanctuary; around which the whole album kind of revolves. Starting with the story of the Vikings raiding the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne; raping and pillaging; leaving the locals to flee to the mainland ….. perhaps the first refugees? The track then flits between a Syrian man telling his tale of travelling across Europe to get to Durham; and an elderly English gentleman retelling a story of a young soldier in WW1 trying to get back to blighty, before Slatcher then brings his story up to date. It’s all a very clever and inspiring 4 or 5 minutes from start to finish. It’s not always easy for someone like me to actually ‘enjoy’ world music; as we don’t have any idea what the singer is singing about; but handily the accompanying booklet has the lyrics to everything in it; making the Levantine Folk Song Haddi ya Baher actually spring to life as you can read the story as if it’s poetry while Hasna Al Hassoun sings like an Angel in the background. When you read the words to the opening verse of Hasna’s other song in her Mother Tongue; Al Sham ya Mahjata Galbi I hope you too will get a lump in your throat; as I did: “Oh Sham, my heartbeat, you will always be the highest Get up my love, and kill the despair of oppression Don’t bend and extract the thorns by your hand” Even the Traditional Folk songs that are included are saved by Slatcher’s winsome and earthy voice; and in Let Us Be Together and Deepest Cry of All Shadow & I, he shows not just his ability to turn these harrowing stories into beautiful prose; but show what a superb singer he is in his own rite. Tucked away in the middle is a stunning improvised semi-classical track, Under Ancient Skies from Sam Slatcher on acoustic guitar and Raghad Haddad on viola; and the only way to describe it is ‘two cultures clash’ and ‘create a new musical universe’ on the banks of the River Wear. Oh my, oh my, oh my! Selecting a Favourite Track here isn’t easy at all; but what I will do is point you towards City of Sanctuary (outro) when Kareem Awad and Leon Le Dune bring their stories full circle over Sam Slatcher’s delicate piano in the background; and Leon’s final sentence makes this song more heartbreaking than any Country song you will hear this year! I possibly don’t come out of this very well, if I admit to normally avoiding ‘Charity Albums’ like the plague; as generally they are very worthy projects that aren’t as ‘interesting’ as the players think they are. This is far from the case with STORIES OF SANCTUARY; as every track here is here on it’s own artistic merit and even the two songs by The Sanctuary Seekers themselves, Like a Butterfly and By The Stone Dun Cow; are the type of things you’d hear on BBC Radio 6 late at night! I say all this in total honesty; even though I’m always going to be a sucker for anything associated with God’s County; Durham.
Those who have been with us from Day #1 will know that in August 2015 I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer on a Friday morning; and thanks to the wonderful people at Sunderland Royal Hospital; and just as importantly the charity Prostate Cancer UK who spend fortunes on not just research; but the amazing robot that removed the offending article on the following Monday afternoon……. I’m still here Rocking in the UK! The following year my sons Andrew and Christopher ran in the Great North Run on my behalf and raised £2,000 for Prostate Cancer UK and The hospital too. #GodBlessTheNHS I’m keen not to be ‘defined’ by that time in my life; and I certainly don’t see myself as a ‘survivor’ …….. as I had absolutely no symptoms and it was only by chance that my GP suggested he should check it out because I was 56, that it was discovered; but I still occasionally feel the need to promote this remarkable charity, as do my family.
Son #2, Chris is a producer in the advertising world and jumped at the chance to make the latest Prostate Cancer UK TV advert …… as a way of saying ‘Thank you’. BTW That’s him and my Grandson in the swimming pool!
Here’s the rub…… enjoy the advert; but if you’ve ever liked my reviews or more importantly …. benefited from one of my reviews here’s the link to the Prostate Cancer UK ‘Just Giving’ page …….. £5, $5, €5 any little will help.