Mascot Label VA
ROCKIN’ THE BLUES (2018)
A Diamond Studded Gateway To Blues Nirvana.
Eehhh….when I were nowt but a lad, living in a shoe box in the middle of a road in the 1970’s Record Label ‘Sampler LP’s’ were a staple part of my record collection; introducing me to many acts I still love to this day.
Later, around the turn of the Century similar CD’s from Bloodshot, Glitterhouse and a host of others were my gateway to a love of Americana/Roots music but; with the Pandora’s Box of steaming websites giving people (mostly free) access to music from every genre known to man across the four corners of the world; do Samplers still have a place in the market?
If this album is anything to go by (and I have another similar CD waiting in the wings) is anything to go by….HELL YES!
Mascot/Provogue have been releasing some of the most exciting (modern) Blues Music for aeons now and with a European tour by label stalwarts Eric Gales, Quinn Sullivan and Gary Hoey alongside ‘Special Guests’ in the offing for early 2018 they have released this wonderful cornucopia of songs for your pre-Christmas delectation.
The legendary Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band kick-starts proceedings with Diamonds & Gold from his most recent album; and it feels like turning the key in a classic Ford Mustang, such is the adrenaline it induces.
The first of many pleasant surprises immediately follows with Quinn Sullivan sweet, sweet, sweet Midnight Highway. Liquid electric guitar and a sorrowful singing voice combine on a gorgeous slice of music best played late at night when your lover has left you for someone else; and nothing but bittersweet Blues will suffice.
Obviously there are artistes here that will be familiar to RMHQ readers; Walter Trout, Gary Hoey,Beth Hart, Jonny Lang, Sonny Landreth and Black Stone Cherry are all represented by songs from albums we have lovingly reviewed this year; but it’s the acts that we have criminally overlooked that make this ‘budget priced album’ worth every single penny of your pocket money.
I originally thought Simo’s album RISE & SHINE was a bit ‘heavy’ for my tastes; but set against this backdrop People Say is a cracking foot-stomper; and L.O.V.E by the mysterious Supersonic Blues Machine sounds uncannily like Bad Company with Paul Kossoff guesting on Les Paul.
As a teaser there’s also an unreleased song called Mr. Lucky from Lance Lopez’s (singer in the afore mentioned Supersonic Blues Machine) solo album due for release early in the New Year and boy does it make the hair stand up on your neck.
While Mascot/Provogue are normally associated with foot to the floor Blues-Rock with the emphasis on RAWK….. my two favourite songs here are on the more melodic side of the Blues Spectrum with Eric Gales Been So Long even having a slight Reggae tinge to the bass playing; but it’s his guitar playing that will absolutely blow your mind and beg Santa for a copy of MIDDLE OF THE ROAD on the 25th December.
The other is the semi-political album closer Times Have Changed by Ronnie Baker Brooks from his album of the same name and again his guitar playing will……never mind what it will do to you; but it reminded me of first hearing Roy Buchanan on OGWT.
I still love a themed VA album and if you do too this is a perfect introduction to the Blues World of Mascot Records.
Released 15th December 2017
At The Helm Records
Brothers & Sisters; Time Loves a Hero….and I Think I’ve Discovered a New One.
I only ‘discovered’ the quaintly monikered Hans Chew earlier this year when he opened for Will Hoge at a Jumping Hot Club gig in Newcastle. Apart from his distinctive and expressive singing voice I was thrilled to see him play the piano; and play it well, which is a rare treat these days.
With that in mind I was quite excited to receive this; his fourth album a couple of weeks ago…….but……and this is 100% accurate……nothing prepared me for the sound that came out of the speakers during the opening track Give Up The Ghost. I was expecting pleasant singer-songwriter faire; but….HELL NO……he has a band….and what a band it is. Dear Reader; this album is top drawer Americana/Soft Rock of the finest order, with a singer who fully inhabits his dynamic stories and a guitar player in Dave Cavallo who can really make a guitar gently weep.
At only six tracks long OPEN SEA would be an EP in other hands; but Chew and friends scoff at the three minute rule……allowing songs like Cruikshanks and the stunning title track Open Sea weave, bend and flow until they reach a natural conclusion 7 or 8 minutes after they start; making me hark back to those long dark nights in my teenage bedroom listening to the Allman Brothers and Little Feet on my huge black headphones.
At 9 minutes plus Freely is the longest track here; but not a second is wasted on a deliciously strolling Folk-Rocker which has elements of Traffic and the Fairports entwined with some guitar playing worthy of John McLaughlin in his full majesty. The album cover may well only have Hans Chew’s name on it; but be ensured this really is a combined band effort with drummer Rob Smith and bassist Jimy SeiTang keeping meticulous time and beat behind the afore mentioned Cavallo and Chew’s own intricate piano playing.
With only six songs to choose from picking a favourite wasn’t easy; with the final track Extra Mile being the nearest to what originally captured my heart that night at the Live Theatre; but I’m going for the shortest song here; Who Am Your Love? Which is as good a 4 minutes of intense Americana singer-songwriting as I or you will here in the next year. As per the other 5 songs Chew chooses his words very carefully; but the ones he does use are spell binding; as is the passionate way he delivers them on this heart shredding love song.
A couple of weeks ago I had an interesting conversation about ‘there being too much music available’ these days; and I firmly believe there is; and because of that it’s frightening that such a great (and it is a GREAT) album would more than likely disappear without trace were it not for the wonderful Brighton based Record Label At The Helm and a handful of websites like RMHQ…..trust me; if you even vaguely like the reference bands I mentioned earlier, you will love this.
Released December 1st 2017
Duo Range Golden Tone.
Charming Contemporary Country Music That Nods Back To The Golden Years.
Well…..this is a fascinating … as I first encountered Sophia and her sister Hannah when they were members of the Toy Hearts alongside Dad Stewart; and loved seeing them play live many times, plus their song Tequila and High Heels was a favourite of my listeners on the Jumping Hot Club Radio Show many years ago.
Sophia eventually re-located to the Colonies and the home of the music she loves, Austin. She skillfully describes the initial frustration she encountered entering the US of A very eloquently on the swinging opening track Visa Blues; and I’m sure will be sung with a rye smile when featured in concert. And it has to be said Sophia’s guitar playing is as extraordinary as ever on the solos; often hinting at Chet Atkins several times.
What pleases me most here is the way Sophia slips and slides between several Country Music styles with ease; although the title track One Year, and her version of the intriguingly titled Bob Wills instrumental Big Beaver truly showcase her first love, Western Swing.
While she wrote and arranged most of the Toy Hearts songs, Sophia’s writing has really matured since she moved to Austin; with Don’t Call and the acutely observed bittersweet Kitchen Floor and Rue The Day showing a new contemporary style of storytelling which I like a lot.
Now;the accolade of ‘RMHQ Favourite Song’ goes to Starting Fires; because it’s not just an exceptional Country ‘Break Up’ song but also a superb slice of Classic Country melancholic melodrama played out to a haunting backdrop and a wailing fiddle from Beth Chrisman and some divine Honky-Tonk piano from the delightfully monikered Earle Poole Ball all combine to create a song that would have done Patsy or Loretta proud in the heyday of Country Music on National Radio.
The album comes to a sweet and swinging close with a jaunty rendition of I’m an Old Cowhand and Beaumont Rag which showcases not just Sophia Johnson’s dexterity on the geetar, but the amazing skills of the musicians she has surrounded herself with.
First released in 2016 this album has arrived too late to be featured in any of my Top 10’s; but it would have been a worthy contender as it’s been a bundle of pleasant surprises from start to finish.
As things have shown in my personal life recently; life’s too short and it’s all about the music at the end of the day; and this album is really well worth searching out.
Released 15th Sept 2016
Sharply Observed Songs For Sad Eyed Grown Ups.
When I reviewed Jimmy Livingstone’s previous release ONE EYE OPEN/ONE EYE CLOSED I described it as ‘being a big sound on a small budget’ and here the budget involved in the recording appears bigger; but the sound he creates hasn’t been compromised one little bit; and if anything gives a more ‘complete’ feel and probably replicates the sounds he hears in his head in a more coherent manner.
AIRPLANE MODE opens with the delightful Taking The Long Way Home; with Livingstone’s weather beaten voice atop of a red hot band on a Road Song about a man returning to his home town after too many years away, with superb lines like “I’ve been digging holes/When I should have been building bridges” and “I’m a slow lane Joe/but it’s good to know/I’m taking the long way home.”
That theme continues on the next track Walking Down Kingsland, when the singer walks around the streets of his home-town like a stranger in a strange land; but people he hasn’t seen for years pass him with a nod and a “Say, how you doing man?” As if he’s never been away. I have similar tales of returning to my home village for weddings and funerals 30 years after first leaving. Classic songwriting that will appeal to most people who have left home.
There’s a thematic sadness that links a lot of songs here; but the way Livingstone concocts a snappy tune to accompany his melancholy words on Encouraging The Sun, Half-Written Love Song and She Made My Heart Her Home deflect from the cracked melancholy of his razor sharp words.
If one song sums up this album, it’s King of the Middle of the Road which will make many other songwriters smile ruefully as it details his struggles to ‘make it’ in a world full of “younger, better, fitter men” but describing the lifelong struggle for a ‘hit’ ….. “In a twisted kinda way it turns me on.”
I love Livingstone’s tongue in cheek and often rye sense of humour that comes from age, wisdom and actually having a real life before finally becoming a full time musician, which really comes to the fore on the finale Play My Songs When I’m Dead and Gone.
Not all of the songs here are so autobiographical; as two of the best are observational songs; Plain Sailing is another pretty tune hiding a dark message and It’s Hard Being a Whore is a beautiful story about a taboo subject.
Which brings me to my ‘favourite track’ …….the slow Texicana Waltz of The Great You is a slow burning tale of unrequited love; and includes such intimate detail like “Lets drink a last tequila to the sunrise/Glen Campbell on the Jukebox singing Gentle on my Mind/And I’m hypnotised.” Your heart will bleed every time you hear this wickedly beautiful song.
If you’ve not heard of Jimmy Livingstone before it’s difficult to explain where he fits in……an Americana Crooner? A commercial Nick Cave? Scott Walker with a Bigsby on his Telecaster? He Rocks when he wants to; but more likely he will break your heart when you were least expecting it.
Grown up music for grown ups like me and you.
Released January 26th 2018
The Raving Beauties
RAVING FOR BAP (KENNEDY)
A Special Way To Celebrate a Wonderful Life at Christmas.
Phew…..I don’t really know where to begin here; where does the time go? It’s now over a year since Belfast Boy Bap Kennedy died and his passing still feels as raw to me as it must his family.
Here, Bap’s friends and family have combined to record 5 of his finest songs that span his career way back to the Energy Orchard days with all proceeds (coupled with the £2,000 his lovely sister Marian has raised by a 12 month long sponsored abstinence from the demon alcohol!) going to the Marie Curie (NI) who looked after ‘yer man’ in those horrible last few months.
Normally at this stage I should actually review all 5 songs on this delightful record; but apart from telling you they are all delightful and come oozing with love for Bap; what’s the point? You are going to buy this anyways; aren’t you?
1) Walk In Love
2) Moriarty’s Blues
3) The Way I Love Her
4) Hard Street
5) Lonesome Lullaby
Oh…..I’m not even giving you a free sampler as this cause is so important I want you to give hard cash to hear this beautiful tribute. Trust me, it’s worth it.
The release comes via a digital download or a collectors edition 10″ vinyl (which I DO NOT WANT TO SEE ON E-BAY!).
Download (£5 or €5?)
PS All of Bap’s wonderful musical legacy is also still available to buy (and give as Xmas presents)
This will surprise and possibly amuse some readers but as a teenager I dabbled in the murky waters of Prog Rock! It didn’t last long; and while I haven’t listened to their music in aeons I still have a soft spot for Camel…..and they are touring the UK again in September 2018……perhaps I will see you there; I won’t be the one with a grey ponytail btw.
Here’s the Press Release.
Legendary prog-rockers CAMEL announce UK tour dates for September 2018 Performing the whole of their 1976 classic album Moonmadness plus other classic tracks.
Tickets on sale Friday 1st Dec at 10am.
Following the recent announcement that legendary prog-rock band Camel will bring their acclaimed live show to London’s Royal Albert Hall in Sept 2018, the band are happy to reveal that this will be preceded by an extensive run of UK tour dates. During what will be a very special run of shows – performed by Andrew Latimer (guitar, flute, vocals), Colin Bass (bass guitar, vocals), Denis Clement (drums), Peter Jones (keyboards, vocals) – the band will be playing the entirety of their 1976 album “Moonmadness” plus plenty of other classic tracks.
Upon release “Moonmadness” left its mark on the UK Top 20 albums chart, going on to become certified silver. In the Q & Mojo Classic Special Edition Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, the album was included in its list of the best “40 Cosmic Rock Albums” and voted no. 58 in the Top 100 Prog Albums of All Time by readers of ‘Prog’ magazine in 2014.
The full run of UK dates is as follows.
Tickets go on sale Friday 1st Dec at 10am.
Fri 07 Sep 2018 Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK [buy tickets]
Sat 08 Sep 2018 Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle, UK [buy tickets]
Sun 09 Sep 2018 The Assembly, Leamington, UK [buy tickets]
Mon 10 Sep 2018 Friars Aylesbury at The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK [buy tickets]
Wed 12 Sep 2018 O2 Guildhall, Southampton, UK [buy tickets]
Thu 13 Sep 2018 Corn Exchange, Cambridge, UK [buy tickets]
Fri 14 Sep 2018 Birmingham Town Hall, Birmingham, UK [buy tickets]
Mon 17 Sep 2018 Royal Albert Hall, London, UK [buy tickets]
FORGET EVERYTHING (and ROCK)
Red Lounge Records.
Classic Alt. Country That Rocks With Germanic Precision.
My heart sinks when someone offers something “I think you will like” because you reviewed Band X or Singer Y; it’s really not that simple.
Such was my gut feeling when a nice lady from this German record company got in touch a couple of moths ago; which is why I dismissed the original e-mail; but she persevered and even when the promised CD didn’t arrive (€6 wasted apparently) she had one last attempt to get me to have a listen.
I can only apologise…….as it’s a corker!
The title track Forget Everything opens proceedings and…..WOW…..it’s pretty damn much everything I like in Alt. Country…..a world weary singer, Twangtastic guitars, a pedal-steel that will break a concrete heart and a song that takes your breath away.
Mess cranks down the gears to make the band’s engine roar for the next song Get Away and I was sucked in for a roller-coaster ride of epic proportions.
As en ex-Punk and lonely singer-songwriter Tom Mess knows how to rock a tune (Stranded & Broke) but also how to tug on your heartstrings too (Ache Can Be an Engine) with equal measure; and that combined to an obvious love of Classic Country Rock makes this album come at you from all directions until you submit to it’s all too obvious pleasures.
In simple terms this is Trucker Cap Country Music, as opposed to the Stetson type; and songs like Oh, Honey and Hobo Sound are well suited to a Friday night anywhere beer is consumed and the lonely congregate.
I’ve predominantly listened to this album in the car; and in that setting it’s good old-fashioned driving music with the larger-than-life final song Your Part is To Prove Me Wrong easily being my favourite track here; but I guess there’s something here for everyone to give a similar accolade too.
Yet again I’ve discovered someone from the other side of the Atlantic who can write and play Country Music better than a whole load of household name Americans; Tom Mess…..remember the name and where you heard it.
Released October 13 2017
BATHED IN COMFORT
Americana Labelled With Love From England and San Francisco.
The story begins the day after 43 year old Ex-Patriot Yorkshireman Steve saw Chuck Prophet in concert and began ruminating on some songs he had written and on a whim he forwarded them to Mr Prophet for his consideration. Much to the songwriter’s surprise Chuck responded by inviting him over to San Francisco to record said songs alongside the Mission Express…..yep; really.
Six of these songs were recorded over those few days with the intention of releasing them as an EP; but Chuck and the band liked them so much Steve was invited back in early 2016 to write and record a further 4 songs that would ultimately make up this album.
Intrigued? Well; read on……
At this point I desperately tried to forget the Chuck Prophet connection as opening song Rosalie bears no resemblance to anything I’ve heard from him……but why would I? This is Steve Gardner’s album and Prophet et al are just helping out in the background. This opening track conjures up memories of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook’s post Squeeze solo outings; a quaint English Folk Rock/Americana hybrid that just oozes quality from every groove.
As everyone knows I’m a sucker for a good love song and quite a few are included here; the dark relationship breakdown of a torrid affair that is described in I Can’t Walk Away is truly heartbreaking and delicately told from the male protagonists point of view; and the dark Murder Ballad Take Me Down is worthy of Nick Cave.
What Would I Do is a bit ‘wordy’ at times, but on the other hand is a gorgeous love song shrouded in a velvet fog of longing for the woman he’s in danger of taking for granted…….a scenario many of us live out each day, and Steve Gardner puts the sentiment I feel so eloquently into words and music.
Who among us could resist a song called Peter The Astrophysicist? Hmm; so it’s just me is it? Well it’s certainly a bit quirky as Peter dances around the world looking ‘for a wife’ but hey…..we all need a little bit of quirkiness in our lives don’t we?
Back to Mr Prophet; it’s easy to see why this self-confessed lover of British music would fall in love with the 2 1/2 songs that tie for the title of RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’…….The Fall of Lance Gardino is a tale of a one time Rock Star now selling vinyl on a market stall and ‘Raising Hell on a Thursday at the karaoke/singing a selection of his own hits.’ Amazingly well constructed and the Mission Express do what they do better than most other musicians behind Gardner’s droll flat Northern vocals.
Two and a half ‘songs’ you ask…..well the other song appears twice; first as a traditional Pop-Rock toe-tapper and then at Chuck’s insistence in a Country guise…….The Day The The Aliens Saved The World is a wonderful tongue in cheek A-Political song that may or may not have a semi-religious sub-plot; or not as the case may be……but I bloody love both versions.
What more can I say; this has been joy from start to finish and owes a whole lot more to the likes of English Pop Royalty Squeeze, Prefab Sprout and especially Nick Lowe than it does our favourite San Franciscan and given a good tail wind I can imagine several of these songs being played on Radio 2 or any of the cooler TV 30 Something shows.
Released 20th May 2017
A Different Thread
HIGH TIME EP
Quintessential English Folk But With an Appalachian Heartbeat.
Yet again this is a release that has been sitting in the to-do queue for a few weeks and was brought to my attention via the ‘random button’ on my i-phone.
Thankfully that track wasn’t the actual first one on the CD, Banjo Tune because; and not for the first time……I’m currently suffering from ‘Banjo Fatigue’! With Americana music currently ‘on trend’ I receive a few albums that appear to be either Folk or even Rock; with a banjo welded onto the recording to give it ‘authenticity’ which doesn’t do my ears any favours.
While the banjo does feature strongly on the song of the same name; mercifully singer Robert Jackson’s richly distinctive voice carries a rather sweet song along a path normally trodden by one of my heroes Tom Paxton.
Very much on the Appalachian Folk end of the Americana Spectrum A Different Thread deliver a series of lovely and warm songs like Cherry Tree and Long In The Tooth which belies the trio’s distinctly Middle England roots.
With only 5 songs on this EP those previous three are each delightful in their own ways; but the other two songs stand out like poppies in a field of corn.
The first, High Time made me smile as soon as I saw the title because it’s the same as a favourite song in my teens by Detroit proto-punks The MC5; but this song is 359 degrees away from tat madness.
A gorgeously crafted and written song features some darkly melancholic cello by Isaac Collier and intricate guitar playing by Jackson himself while Alicia Best’s subtle fiddle playing will break the hardest of hearts.
Then it behoves me to say that they have kept the best until last; with the bittersweet love song Sweet Elizabeth. Like a fine red wine, it conjures up the heady flavours of Led Zeppelin and even the Allman Brothers (without the electric guitars or drums) as well as the rich aroma of Richard Thomson and my personal favourite Bert Jansch; while very much creating their own distinctive sound.
Whether in a club, pub or even your own home this is the type of music best heard with the lights down low and your hopes set high.
released 15th September 2017.
Bloodshot – 13 Days of Xmas (2017)
A Fairytale of Chicago With Extra Special Presents.
Discovering Bloodshot’s compilation albums 20 years or more ago was my gateway to what is now known as Americana Music; but back then was called Insurgent Country; and I still kinda like that name.
Never shy at celebrating Public Holidays with the release of a new record; this year they have pulled an oddball collection of Bloodshot acts and assorted friends together to celebrate Christmas and it’s as cool and crazy as you’d hope and expect.
I hadn’t checked the track list the first time I played this (a sunny November morning btw!) and I would have sworn opening track O Holy Night was the Pride of Sheffield Richard Hawley; such is the dry and droll way the vocalist delivers the words; but no…..it’s actually Murder by Death; and rather beautiful in a dark manner.
Track #2 was a giveaway as soon as I heard that sexy baritone declare “I’m Papa Barrence!” Who else could it be but the one and only Barrence Whitfield and the Savages; and it’s an absolute doozy.
Brand new Bloodshot signing Ruby Boots makes her label debut with a very sexy I Slept Through Christmas; and I now can’t wait for the release of her new album in the new year.
Old Bloodshot hands Jon Langford, Ha Ha Tonka, Dex Romweber and Devil in a Woodpile all make Seasonal appearances with a variety of attitudes towards the Festivities; but it’s the newcomers that have caught my attention.
James Elkington’s Christmas Is Now Drawing Near sounds like he’s been listening to a lot of John Martyn and Nick Drake; whereas Zach Schmidt goes for Country 1:01 with I’m Drunk Again This Christmas but the biggest surprise of all is Ron Gallo doing a straight version of White Christmas albeit with a pedal-steel in the background.
There are three serious contenders for the title of Favourite Song; could it be RMHQ darlings The Yawpers with Christmas in Oblivion; an almost Lo-Fi observation on the times we live in; or is it the prison melodrama How To Make Gravy from All Our Exes Live In Texas (who I REALLY need to hear more of) or will it be the woman I’ve had a crush on for 17 years? Yup…it’s Miss Kelly Hogan and the delicate Christmas love song, Blue Snowfall.
As you’d expect with a Compilation some songs work better than others; but sometimes it’s a matter of personal taste but the best of these tracks are among the very best Christmas songs you will hear this; or any other year.
Released November 17th 2017