The Bar is Raised Significantly for British Country Music.
The title Rush of Blood is very apt for Geraint Watkins’ latest solo release; as that’s exactly how I and I’m sure hundreds of others felt when we heard this album was on the horizon. I will forgive anyone under 40 for not knowing who he is; but shame on anyone over that age who doesn’t appreciate not just his actual music; but his contribution to what we now know as British Americana or indeed; British Country Music! RUSH OF BLOOD starts with a 1950’s Country Love Song that doubles as the rousing title track. Man oh man! Watkins says more about ‘love’ in 4 minutes than I’ve managed in 50+ years; and he made my toes tap too. ‘Love’ is the golden thread that weaves through just about every song on this marvelous musical tapestry. If you already know Geraint Watkins there’s nothing new here; ; but there’s plenty of beautiful trademark odes, sung in his trademark world weary, grizzled voice like the swoonsome Hold Back The Night and the heartbreaker I Got The Blues to make even the most cynical of old musos get swept along in Geraint’s gentle tidal wave. But; anyone just discovering him will wonder why they’ve never heard of him before when they here the Twangtastic Middle of the Night and Reason to Live; both of which easily surpass anything you will hear on Country Hits Radio or the like this year; or any year. For me personally RUSH OF BLOOD is chock full of potential singles, with each and every song having the ability to tug on the heartstrings in very different ways; but tug they will; especially On My Mind and the majestic Heart of Stone; which both take Modern British Country Music into a whole new stratosphere! My choice of Favourite Song here is quite the tearjerker; and a contender for a song as my funereal epitaph. Watkins’s deft touch on the electric piano instantly catch your attention; but when her purrs Another Day Over in that velvety manner you know this is a man still gloriously love but ……… knows time is running out. 10/10 Or should I go for Geraint crooning (yes; crooning) the darker Jazzy Another Day Over (Reprise), which follows? Nah; I’m keeping that as a ‘secret love’ …….. don’t tell anyone I told you about it. My copy has a Bonus Track; Wherever There’s Love which I hope yours has too as it’s a doozy; with Watkins on fine Country warbling form and the addition of some razor sharp pedal-steel that will make all those young and hirsuit Alt. Country kids think again about their career choices. I haven’t got enough time to give you a pocket history of this giant among men; but this is a great place to start discovering this rare talent; then purchase yourself some Balham Alligators and you will get your life changed for the price of two pints of London beer.
There are quite a few ‘instrumental albums’ in my collection; predominantly of the Jazz persuasion, but one or two Delta Blues ones for good measure (one has 17 harmonica tracks on it!) plus a couple of ‘Experimental’ type things from Mahavishnu Orchestra among others; but nothing in the Folk idiom. I say ‘Folk’; but that moniker doesn’t do justice to what Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn has created here alongside a handful of friends. The quality throughout Bruce Cockburn’s 35th album CROWING IGNITES (and second one of instrumentals!!) is of such a high standard I don’t want to just call them ‘tracks’ …… how about opuses? The first of these ‘opuses’ is Bardo Rush and I was left spellbound the first time I played it; and again tonight Cockburn’s dazzling fretwork is almost peerless in the musical world I inhabit. Okay; this was all recorded in a studio; with plenty of time for Take 2’s; but the playing on each and every track is absolutely flawless and, it has to be said exemplary too. There are flourishes in Easter and The Groan* that will send a shiver down your spine as your lips break into a stupendous grin; such is the way Cockburn delivers a Masterclass in Acoustic Guitar playing. Perhaps what has impressed me most here is that Bruce Cockburn manages to create music that could and should be in very different genres; but somehow manages to make the intriguing Jazz opuses Angels in the Half Light and The Mt. Lefroy Waltz sit comfortably alongside the delightful Ragtime ditty Sweetness & Light; a raw Blues tune like Blind Willie and the transcendental (?) Seven Daggers and make them all sound cohesive. What a rare talent this man really is. Selecting a single Favourite Track (or should that be opus?) is almost futile; but then again two tunes really do manage to stand out here. April in Memphis is quite staggering in its very own rite; with Cockburn playing his guitar in an almost Classical fashion; and then I read that it was written on MLK Day 2019 and is dedicated to Dr. King; my heart skipped a beat. The other is also a tad on the Classical side; but with a dramatic Celtic spine too, which combines to make Pibroch, The Wind In The Valley quite remarkable in many ways; which is why it’s probably taking the accolade. For an album as beautiful as this, there were very few people involved in the making; all of whom; including Iona Cockburn; 7 year old daughter of Bruce who helped supply handclaps on The Groan; deserve a huge round of applause for creating such a magical and majestic body of work; that will certainly stand the test of time.
It’s not altogether unusual that a mutual musician friend gave Yana my e-mail address; but what was unusual was when she mentioned that the ‘connection’ came from Ireland, while she lives in a town in the Czech Republic called Brno. I doubt you’ve ever heard of it; but I had…… because 50 years ago I had a pen-pal from that very same town! My old pen-pal’s name meant nothing to Yana; but the connection certainly piqued my interest regarding her first single Distant Shore, from her debut EP; due out in the new year. A more fascinating three minutes I’ve not had in a long time. Yana has a very deep, yet still feminine voice and her song is deeply mystical with simple and stark guitar playing juxtaposed against some delightful piano playing from Liam O’Maonlai. Thankfully there are a number of radio stations around the world who have already given the single airplay; and it’s certainly a song well worthy of your attention and a delicious appetiser for the forthcoming EP, especially if it’s in the same vein.
The Orphan Brigade feat. John Prine Captain’s Song (Sorley Boy)
In many ways; or at least in my little world The Orphan Brigade are something of a ‘Supergroup’, as they consist of RMHQ Favourites Joshua Britt, Ben Glover, and Neilson Hubbard plus a vast array of friends who regularly appear on these pages. The new album, TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD comes out on 27th September; and to tease us they’re releasing CAPTAIN’S SONG (Sorley Boy) as a single …… and the world should rejoice; not just because it’s one of the finest songs on a very fine album; but features Living legend John Prine!
“For any history buffs, the song refers to the infamous local chieftain from the 1500s, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, who’s descendants still have strong connections with the Glens of Antrim.” -The Orphan Brigade
Crow vs Lion The Heart, The Time, The Pen Self-Release
A Fascinating Folk-Rock Concept Album on the Cusp of Art-Rock
Well indeed! This is different; very, very ‘different’ and following Dan Gallagher’s intriguing original e-mail regarding this ‘concept album’ I’m damn pleased I read the accompanying EPK Press Release as I listened for the first time yesterday, or I’d have missed a lot of intricate subtleties tucked away in throughout these 13 songs; especially as the number 13 plays an integral part in the ‘concept.’ In a theatrical style, Gallagher splits the album into three seperate and relatively conflicting ‘acts’, The Heart, The Time and The Pen each seperated by a ‘jolt to the system’ in the manner of snippets of radio tuning or samples of music; but somehow they all manage to come together as a complete ‘work of art’ by the end. The story begins with a radio being re-tuned until you hear Gallagher reading a short transcript from his Grandfather’s WWII Journal before and after a haunting and heartfelt Folk Song to and about his son, entitled Daniel Odin. It doesn’t take a massive leap to presume that Daniel Odin is the central character in these ambitious songs; or at least that’s how I’ve interpreted them……. which makes sense; but I could be wrong. This is followed by a more contemporary Folk song; Beg, Steal and Borrow which features some achingly beautiful harmonies and an almost militaristic drum beat on a song that will chill your heart. Personally, I’ve found this a very challenging album to listen to; most notably because of the ‘interspersions’ between many of the songs; which I’m sure are integral to what Gallagher intended; but became increasingly annoying the more I’ve played the album! Individually though; there are some wonderful songs here that actually transcend the complex story; especially Five, Six, Seven, Eight which reminds me of the Lovin’ Spoonful (once it gets going) and The End of Everything which is jaunty, yet as dark and Gothic as acoustic led Folk songs get. Obviously as this is a ‘concept album’ that is meant to be a complete story that winds from beginning to end; and yes indeed, it works in that format; but there is still room for some very good and constructive songwriting that manages to beget two songs that are squabbling for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite; Red Ring is a classy Folk Rocker with a catchy and almost hypnotic refrain; and the very traditional title track The Heart, The Time, The Pen which pulls all of the threads together at the very end yet will also stand out when played on Root Radio. My head is still spinning; and I’m not sure how well this all works as a ‘concept’ or how often I will play this album over the next few years; but there are certainly enough quality individual songs for me to cherry-pick for various playlists on my i-phone.
Rachel Harrington Hush The Wild Horses Skinny Dennis Records
Raw and Articulate Americana That Eases Between Shadow and Light.
It’s odd how ‘fate’ plays a hand in life, isn’t it? Or, as my father used to say; “God acts in mysterious ways.” A few weeks ago I was having a beer with a friend I’d not seen in a year or so and during the conversation he asked, “Can you remember that woman we saw in that cafe in Tynemouth?” I scratched my head and eventually remembered her name as Rachel Harrington; and we both wondered whatever happened to her. Two days later this album dropped on the hall mat! Spooky, or what????? Apparently she’s been ill and subsequently took a couple of years, that stretched to 8 ‘off’; and as part of her therapy began rescuing horses, which has rekindled her love of music …… which took her to a Mary Gauthier songwriting retreat and here is the result. While I own two of her previous four releases I haven’t played them in years; and deliberately avoided them while listening this week, for fear of pre-judgement. The first thing you will notice is the stark beauty of the recording; this is Americana in it’s purest form; starting with Hush The Wild Horses itself, which has a violently strummed acoustic guitar, militaristic drumbeat a maudlin fiddle accompany Rachel’s pained vocals. It has to be said that ‘there aren’t many laughs here’ as Rachel delves deep into the darkest recesses of her heart for these stories; many of which sound quite cathartic; none more so than Child of God which finds the singer only barely restraining herself from screaming and possibly even crying as she tells a harrowing tale of a child’s sexual abuse (her own actually.) Truth really is stranger than fiction in this case. I hadn’t noticed until earlier today how not just the dark subject matter of her songs, but the timbre in her voice and even the way she actually sings reminds me of Joni Mitchell circa Blue! The other name that sprung to mind was Guy Clark; and it wasn’t until I finally read the Press Release that Rachel tells us that her beautiful song Susanna is actually a tribute to the Great Man; who is/was one of her all-time heroes. (Serendipity again?) Which in its own way puts her powerful Vietnam based songs into perspective; starting with Mekong Delta, about on her own Uncle’s experiences in Vietnam and then the rocking and rolling Drop Zone; but most especially The Barn; a subtly deceptive tale based on a story about her Mother’s first love which will bring tears to a glass eye. While there is more than enough shade here; there is also plenty of light ……. with Rachel pouring her heart out in the brittle love songs I Meant to Go To Memphis and the delightful Save Yourself; which is Americana in its rawest form. I say ‘Americana’ which is the best way I can describe these songs, as they conjure up cinematic imagery in a way we associate with filmmakers as disparate as John Ford and David Lynch. I’m actually selecting two songs as my joint Favourite Songs; If Wishes Were Horses and Drinking About You, which both transcend what we think of as Americana Music and even Country although both fit very comfortably into either genre. While the subject matter here is often challenging, it will also resonate with many people of ‘a certain age’ and many of whom will find solace in Rachel Harrington’s words, while her Love Songs; not always easy on the ear manage to shine a light in a way very few modern songwriters can achieve in such an eloquent manner.
Intricate Tales of Unrequited Love From a Rising Star In British Country Music.
Kerrie Fuller is a true D.I.Y. artist. She writes her own songs, records them in her own home studio in Kent, producing them herself, and then releasing them on her own label. It’s a tough world out there for any musician struggling to get some notice, kudos to Fuller for being brave enough to give it a go. Cliché is Fuller’s third EP release and, on this one, most of what we get is tales of unrequited love, but not of the “Oh, poor me,” variety, instead there’s heartfelt anguish and romantic despair, especially on “He’s Not Mine” and “The Other Woman.” The title song, “Cliché,” is the strongest track here with a fun chorus and witty verses — What a great idea for a song! “Little Bit Lonely” has pop potential, and “Why Don’t You Love Me?” is a plea for understanding in a doomed romance. The simple rhythm guitar accompaniment helps this one out, letting Fuller’s vocals shine through. Fuller is still learning and feeling her way through the difficult and often confusing world of being an artist in today’s confining environment, and I’m looking forward to watching her adapt and grow.
Light, Bright and Understated Songs of Americana Dreaminess.
Consistency is a hard line to toe when you’re an artist. Too much and all your material sounds too much the same, not enough and you risk alienating an audience who expects enough of that consistency in order to have something familiar to latch onto. With Is It the Kiss, Ana Egge’s latest, she manages the right mix of both. We get more of the wonderful woodwinds and simple sounds from Egge’s previous album, White Tiger, throughout this new one which is a nice touch. You don’t hear that on too many rock and folk albums these days and they give Egge’s songs a warm yet light touch, which reminds me of some of Jonathan Richman’s albums — another artist who understands dynamics and the benefits of a light, understated touch. Egge has a way with sincerity. I get the feeling that these songs rise up out of her and bubble to the surface when they’re ready instead of having to be coaxed. Her songs don’t sound forced, nor are they full of lyrical trickiness that makes one say “Oh, what a witty writer.” Instead, these songs are way past that, coming from decidedly purer places. If a writer’s job is to say “This is who I am right now, and this what I see,” then Egge has done her job remarkably well. I’m not a believer of a need for poetry in rock music, and there is little of that here. Egge is less Bob Dylan and more Gordon Lightfoot or Tywanna Jo Baskette, and for that we should all be grateful. But what about the songs, you say? “Cocaine Cowboys” is so perfectly crafted it could be a lost Willie Nelson classic, and Egge’s dreamy-druggy euphoric delivery is flawless. The sawdust pedal steel and tenuous touches on the harmonies and piano make this the perfect lead off song on a finely crafted album. “Hurt A Little” is part life lesson, part plaintive call for peace of mind with a marvelous melody and subtly driving electric guitar. “Stay the Night” with its pleas of patient wanting and fearlessness is a seduction song — but who is she trying to convince? Herself or her hopeful lover? On an album of short songs, this one’s the shortest, clocking in at 2:35, but has some great lines such as “What is it about a secret, that makes you wanna keep it?” delivered with honest matter of factness, not cheekily, that make this one a standout. “Chasing Rabbits in the Sun” leaves us on a darker, yet welcome, note. This is impressionist songwriting. You know SOMETHING is going on, but not exactly what. This one is like a dream you just woke from, waiting for the coffee to kick in. This album, much like her previous one, is full of deft subtleties and soft intensities which magnify the mood. Ana Egge’s albums could be considered “quiet,” but they’re not “easy-listening” at all. One thing Egge and her producer and musicians understand is how that sometimes intentionally holding back can create more tension than bombastics or playing ahead of the beat. Bravo.
I See Hawks in LA & The Good Intentions HAWKS WITH GOOD INTENTIONS Western Seeds Record Company
Americana Gold From Liverpool to LA via Laurel Canyon
There’s always been a warm and friendly carefree spirit to I See Hawks in LA albums; and to some degree their achingly beautiful cinematic musical vistas epitomise all that I love about Americana Music; but that didn’t prepare me for this fascinating collaboration with Liverpool’s finest Country-Folk duo, The Good Intentions. At first this would seem a very unlikely pairing; but musicians being musicians Paul and Victoria from the Hawks met Peter and Gabi at a party in the foothills of Sierra Madre and a friendship that would beget this album was born. The first thing I noticed and struggled with, was the ‘Classic Folk’ feel to these songs, rather than the Country Rock/Americana sound I associate with I See Hawks; but several weeks later the pairing works exceptionally well, with this Supergroup sounding akin to the very best of that which came out of Laurel Canyon all those years ago. Now I’ve got my head around it; opening track Blue Heaven has the feel of an edgy John Denver song; or possibly even David Gates’ Bread; warm and hazy with some delightful guitar interludes that will make you sigh. Not every song is as laid back as the melody would have you believe; the casual listener on Spotify will miss all the twists, turns and nuances that make up the dark and Gothic story of Things Like This, which immediatly follows. I’m not going to spoil the surprises; but your jaw will drop when you get to the third and fourth verse. It appears there were many ‘challenges’ regarding words and phrases that would eventually make up the songs here; and that in itself is no surprise as there’s a saying that ‘our two great nations are seperated only by one common language!’ I don’t really care who won out; because we, the listeners are the real winners, with Victoria Jacobs’s ethereal voice taking Hills on Fire into a whole new world while other wonderful songs like Epiphany on Town Hall Square and Rolling The Boxcars only make up the numbers here; when they are strong enough to be stand-out tracks on most other albums. The singing alternates between the Hawk’s Rob Waller and Peter Davies, with various combinations providing harmonies that will occasionally take your breath away. I know I say it too regularly, but this really is an album that should be played in its entirety and not just have songs randomly cherry-picked on streaming sites; although several are well worthy of radio play; or sitting between CSN&Y, Jackson Browne and the Byrds on your playlists. Which brings me to two very special songs indeed; Rambling Girl which sounds like it’s been around for 50 years or more; but is brand new ……. such is the clever and classy writing this combo provide; and the subtlety of the Punch Brother’s Gabe Witcher help make this song a Modern Classic. The other; and my actual Favourite Song here is the extraordinary Will You Watch Over Me From Above; a love song like no other; and one that will tug at your heartstrings until tears roll down your cheeks; and a song destined to be played at many a funeral if I’m not mistaken. For once I can’t summarise any better than their own words ….. ” This is Anglo-American Folk; a modern cross-pollination with its roots in the 60’s and 70’s, but also much, much earlier; spreading today’s news in a timeless troubadour fashion.”
Occasionally Cerebral But Always Good Times Rock and Indeed, Roll!
Although they have been around for nigh on half a century, I only discovered NRBQ two years ago yet couldn’t have been more excited at receiving this album a month ago. The timing has been quite serendipitous as it coincided with a heatwave across the UK and a few longish car journeys where this Live Album has proven to be a very charming companion indeed. Even though the actual performances are split between two sets two years apart for two different radio stations (Sirius XM 2015 and WFMU in 2017); such is the professionalism and quality involved, the music sits seamlessly together. I certainly don’t know enough about NRBQ’s back catalogue to tell you what comes from where; so I’m treating this as a brand new release…… if you get my drift. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when the poptastic harmonies of Don’t Ever Change first seeped out of the car stereo. Obviously a Goffin/King Classic; but this edgy version owes more to the Beatles than it does the Crickets hit single; and then NRBQ give us their finest Beach Boys impersonation on the quirky Florida and regardless of what was to follow, I knew I’d be in for the long haul. It’s fair to say NRBQ are an ‘acquired taste’, especially as they can be deliberately obtuse at times; such as track Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard and The Animal Life to name but two; but that’s the joy here …… you never really know what to expect next. These crazy cats can Rock & Roll withe best of them ……. Don’t Talk About My Music and Keep This Love Goin’ instantly spring to mind; and of course the inclusion of Red River Rock will always make my heart skip a beat. But, NRBQ also have the ability and skill sets to go down a Randy Newman path with an intelligent message masquerading as a Pop Song; Nature’s Gonna Pay You Back and The Wilderness Road instantly spring to mind; but there are others too. I’ve been to a lot of concerts where instrumentals are added as filler; but I certainly get the feeling that Red’s Piano is here to showcase Terry Adams pianistic talents. While I would normally plump for a love song as my Favourite Song; and there are plenty here to choose from (the spiky Beautiful Lover and Keep This Love Goin’ are obvious choices; but It Feels Good has its merits too) but I’m going for the album closer RC Cola and Moon Pie as my absolute Favourite Song as it’s a blast; combining snatches of Duke Ellington piano tunes with a rollicking Beach Boys/Bill Haley pastiche that is as crazy as it is wonderful. They themselves actually brag about being impossible to find a genre that they sit comfortably in …… I agree. Is it Pop? Yep. Is it Rock and Roll? Yep. Is it Art-Rock? Yep. Is it Jazz? Yep? Is it brilliant? Most certainly.
#There’s also a Live DVD of the 15 song Monty Hall/WFMU-FM performance included in the CD package; and it’s a hoot too!