Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith Drop The Hammer Big Eye Records
Cool Contemporary Blues & Soul With a Hearty Nod to The Past.
Oooohhhheeee! To some degree is all you need to know about this collection of Modern and contemporary Blues songs sung and written by Grammy Award winning drummer Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith. What the Hell’s not to like right from the beginning, as a bottle-neck guitar AND sitar precedes Smith’s ‘tattered velvet’ drawl that is so authentic I swear you can smell the swamps, sweat and sexual tension throughout every single second. For a man whose Father Willie sat at the back of the stage keeping time with the legendary Muddy Waters for 18 years; Kenny Smith certainly has something to say himself; and he has an eclectic way of saying it too; pulling various aspects of the Blues and Soul together into a glorious Gumbo that will have you dancing, smiling, crying and punching the air in equal measure; and one song especially, What In the World ticks each and every one of those boxes btw. Scratchin’ Your Head is a smooth and accessible love song that rolls around a cool Hammond groove and a wailing harmonica; but Smith can get low down and seedy too with the slow sashay of Living Fast, and on No Need Brother Greg Guy really does make his guitar gently weep on a Soul squeezing slice of late night Southside of Chicago Blues Deluxe. Don’t be afraid when I say that these are ‘Modern Blues Songs’, they most certainly are in every aspect; but Smith and The House Bumpers know their musical heritage so, so very well and use that history to great effect on the funklicious Puppet on a String and glorious title track Drop The Hammer, which combines Blues, Soul and a smidgen of Jazz to create something really special indeed. The album closes on a fascinating note; and a Blue Note at that, with the instrumental Moment of Silence which lasts 5 minutes 17 here; but went by in the blink of an eye and has the spine to go on for an hour or more when played live and not a single person would ever complain. I’m actually selecting two very different songs as joint ‘Favourites’ here; the rinky-dinky Second Hand Woman, which is 4 minutes of rolling Blues straight outta some Mississippi Juke Joint; but polished and shined until it’s fit for a concert Hall somewhere uptown; and the other is a first for me, I think. I select Favourite Songs’ for a million different reasons in the course of a year; and I don’t think I’ve ever gone for a song that combines both ‘twee’ and ‘class’ the way Hey Daddy does. Obviously it’s a ‘Love Song’ at heart; but a slick one as Kenny sings not just for, but with his three kids, Mae, Clara and Teddy who provide ace backing vocals on the chorus. Who knew a drummer could be so sensitive, soulful and sensual in not just his singing, but most of all in his songwriting too? Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith, is the real deal and I believe that this album has the ability to whisk him from the shadows and out him permanently in the spotlight.
Enough Heartbreak and Forgiveness To Light Up Your Life.
My first encounter with Jack Savoretti was when I was sent his BEFORE THE STORM album, way back in 2012; and while I enjoyed the album and gave it a 3.5/5; it never got published by the publication I was writing for; as it wasn’t ‘authentic enough’! Today; I can write What the Hell about anything and anyone I like because I rule the roost at RMHQ! The ‘Hit Single’ Candlelight, opens the album and the luscious arrangement, full of swooping violins and a Blue Note inspired band comes across as a nod in the direction of a Bond Movie score; with Savoretti’s silvery voice making the beautiful love song sound slightly sleazy; in an ‘Exotic Mediteranean Lothario’ kind of way. That’s my ‘thing’ with Jack Savoretti; I adore his expressive voice and the way he inhabits his songs like a romantic midnight fog. As an overweight man of ‘certain years’ it always amuses me when a handsome young pup sings about being broken-hearted …. as if! But why not; love holds no barriers and effects people in a million different ways; and here Savoretti takes this gut wrenching theme into the stratosphere with Better Off Without Me ….. “I know I’ve let you down And the make up I never noticed running down your face Showing my mistakes I’m always angry I live with pain You’re going crazy cos I don’t know how to explain.” Sadly; to write words like this, the kid has had to live through such a torrid domestic scenario, don’t you think? While always singing from the male point of view; Savoretti certainly knows how to go straight for the female heart, in one way or another, and his writing appears to have moved on leaps and bounds in the last 7 years. Although the Euro-pop beat jarred with me; Youth and Love is still a crackling song that will have the ladies clutching their heaving bosoms when they hear it; and both of the the epic songs here, What More Can I do? and Greatest Mistake will have them willing to forgive him absolutely anything (within reason). While the themes of Savoretti’s songs are generally classic and timeless; what he does and how he delivers it is rather special and full of very modern twists too. I’m certainly not the normal demographic for this album; nor (I hope) is Mrs. Magpie; but there are a million young women out there who want and need ‘fantasy love songs’ about a heartbreaker of a man; who has a twinkle in his eyes and a sexy smile on his lips; and Jack does that with great aplomb on Touchy Situation (an adaptation of a lost Bob Dylan song, no less!) and Things I Thought I’d Never Do. There’s a lot going on in these songs; so choosing a Favourite Song certainly hasn’t been easy; especially as the majority are very ‘radio friendly’ with hooks that would snare a Great White Shark; but I am going to flip a coin between the majestic title track Singing to Strangers and the haunting and dusty Dying For Your Love; not least because it sounds like there’s a shivering steel guitar in the mix; and the way Jack Savoretti purrs these words sends a shiver down the spine: “You ask me what I’m made of I’m made to feel your love You’re all I ever think of I’m dying for your love.” The album eventually closes with a live duet with Miss Kylie Minogue, recorded in Venice; Music’s Too Sad Without You, which the couple wrote together………. and trust me; there won’t be a dry eye in the house by this stage of proceedings. For me these ‘fantasy love songs’ have echoes of Julio Iglesias, Lionel Ritchie and even the great Andy Williams, but Savoretti has his very distinctive voice and his songwriting is evolving in a similar manner too; so comparisons are becoming ever more meaningless.
I’ve just been away on holiday for a week, choosing to avoid any form of internet contact – or even listen to any music! This was purely ‘quality time’ for me and Mrs Magpie, as we wandered the streets of Barcelona during the day and haunted the bars and restaurants of the port side by night. Then; on my return I found a pile of Cd’s waiting behind the front door and 23 e-mails with download attachments. It breaks my heart; but the vast majority don’t suit what we do here at RMHQ (Psych-Folk? Prog influences Techno? Who are these people?) But; right at the end of my ‘deleting exercise’ I unearthed this little beauty. Only a single; but WOW!
Zürich based Americana, Folk duo GOLDSCHLATZ (Timothy Jaromir & Christina Rieder) with Canadian-Swiss roots are releasing their second single “North 49”. The song takes us back to the time when tens of thousands of immigrants flocked to Northern Canada to the area of the Klondike River, where the last big gold rush took place. “North 49” is a further taste of the upcoming debut album “Salt of the Sea” to be released this October and it comes with a cool music video in a unique collage style. Catch them on tour in CH, GE and Canada this year
Chatham County Line Sharing the Covers Yep Roc Records
Ripping Up The Bluegrass Rule Book.
An album of all covers by any artist can go one of three ways: 1. Why bother? 2. Some good, some bad. 3. Yes, yes, yes! Chatham County Line, from the mountains of North Carolina, U.S.A., are decidedly in the multiple affirmative. From the amusing album cover on the front — which was most likely an interesting photo shoot — to the songs inside, both familiar and rare. I appreciate that they decided to forego the easy to pull off and predictable novelty cover of an established modern pop song, (such as a bluegrass rave-up version of Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” or “I” by Kendrick Lamar done up as a dirt floor country stomper.) Instead the guys choose to take chances with tougher material such as the Ventures “Walk, Don’t Run” and a beautiful take on John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels,” as well as a solid re-imagining of the Rolling Stones old standby “Last Time” which ups the bluegrass element without losing any of the rock ‘n’ roll. Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels” is bound to be a crowd favorite, but my favorite, beyond a doubt, has to be “I Think I’m in Love” written by Beck and originally on his The Information album from 2006. Understated isn’t usually a bluegrass staple, but this song is just that, wonderfully understated and perfectly dynamic in its simplicity, and Chatham County Line expertly pulls it off. The boys are expert pickers but know when to smartly hold back. And did I say the harmonies throughout are deliciously pure? We also get wonderful renditions of Wilco, the Delmore Brothers, and James Hunter songs here as the Chatham County boys know full well how to make someone else’s tune their own. They’re on tour right now to support this album, see them live if you get the chance, they’re fun, full of energy, and highly entertaining onstage.
Still Experimenting and Pushing The Blues Rock Boundaries After 40 Years!
A few days ago I got drawn into a Twitter-Spat about the ‘merits of new music v old music’ …… yes, yes, yes…… I should know better by now; but some days I can’t help myself. While I adore Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters, to name but three Blues Legends in my collection……. where would the world be without musicians like Joe Bonamassa and, in this case Gary Hoey pushing the boundaries of what the genre can do and still keep it commercial? Opening track Under The Rug throws down a marker for what Hoey is still capable of after 20 previous albums; liquid gold guitar breaks from himself and guest Eric Gales make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end; while his voice sounds like a man who has ‘lived a life that would scare the average man’; and the story in the song ain’t too shabby neither. I despair when friends wearing their Jimi Hendrix t-shirts think the Art of playing Rock guitar died in 1979…… check out I Felt Alive or Living The Highlife to hear someone who listened to all those old records too…… but has put his own indelible stamp on the genre on the last 40 odd years of Blues Rock; and in the case of the latter song; listen to the lyrics to hear a Master craftsman at work there too. Me? I refuse to live in the past; as does Gary Hoey, how else can you explain the intricate fretwork on the swinging love song Still Believe In Love? If this was Stevie Ray Vaughan; listeners would be spontaneously combusting with excitement! Speaking of ‘pushing boundaries’ Hoey slides in a few instrumentals here that take what we know as Blues Rock on a bit of a field trip through Jazz AND, DARE i Say it….Classical Territories and with Almost Heaven, and definitely slow and sensuous Waiting on the Sun comes out the other end with something of cinematic scale that transcends musical boundaries. While it is predominantly Gary Hoey doing the magic on the electrical guitar, there are two more Guest Appearances; Lance Lopez manages to make metaphorical spark fly alongside Mr Hoey on Damned If I do; and much to Gary’s fatherly pride his 16 year old son Ian shows that there is something special in the Hoey genetics on the mystical Don’t Come Crying; which was an early contender for Favourite Track status; as was the stunning instrumental title track Neon Highway Blues for a couple of days; but the actual RMHQ Favourite Track accolade goes to……..cue drum roll……..the ; which is as close to a Rock Ballad as I get to enjoy these days; I Felt Alive which overlaps occasional buzz-saw guitar with some crystal cut notes from the sweet end of his guitar on a song of love, hope and aspiration that will be met with pure adoration when played live. Just like me Gary Hoey sure sounds like he still loves and is as passionate about his music today as he was when he first picked up a guitar all of those years ago……. and long may he continue pushing boundaries and creating Blues Rock as exciting as this.
Wily Bo Walker & ED Brayshaw The Roads We Drive Mescal Canyon Records
Salvador Seguí Square, 1 – 9 08001 Barcelona
An Epic Blues Laden Southern Rocking Gothic Film Noir Soundtrack.
While he and I have been around for a 100 years or so; Wily Bo and my paths didn’t cross until he got in touch via a friends recommendation only a couple of years ago; but we’ve made up for lost time with the gruff voiced Scotsmans’ work ethic, which sometimes feels like he releases an album a month! I am going to use a couple of descriptive terms that would normally send me running in the opposite direction of a record labelled ‘concept’ or ‘Rock Opera’; but Wily Bo and his pal ED Brayshaw manage to keep this collection of slightly disparate songs not just very accessible on every level, but on the right narrative road for the story they hope to tell; and the packaging is worth the entrance fee alone, too. The absolutely blistering Storm Warning sets the exciting tone for the epic cinematic tale of ‘three people, two paths and one story’ that will follow; with Wily Bo’s voice possibly never sounding better or more expressive, and Brayshaw’s guitar playing sounds like sparks are flying off the strings! The scene is then set for a collection of sweaty, claustrophobic and occasionally sexy songs based around Louise, Johnny and Harry as their lives criss-cross in a Thelma & Louise meets Bonnie and Clyde fashion, mostly in Dixie Alley; but with threads that spiral off and out of control. I will forget the actual story for a minute or two; and concentrate on the songs; which individually are damn good from start to finish. The obligatory Motel Blues is here and could easily have been the title track, as a lot of the stories start and finish here. Johnny & Louise’s signature tune September Red follows soon after, being sensual, scary and sensitive in equal measures with a drum that sounds like a beating heart and a swirling Hammond organ, the boy telling his girl: “Baby I am just a man when I say I will die for you I hope you will understand Baby, I will be there for you.”
You know there isn’t going to be no happy ending. The first Act closes with Killers on the Run; which sounds like Tom Waits fronting The Doors singing a Velvet Underground song in a Texas Bar; and the thread of fear, lust and menace comes through in every single note, especially the gut wrenching chorus. “Out here we are Twisted Out here we are alone Out here we are…….. Beautiful!” Oddly enough the Second Act starts with an acoustic guitar; but that soon dissolves into a dirty electric with rusty strings for Running Wild; which soon picks up pace like a stolen getaway car with only one station on the radio. When you play this album (albeit 2 x CD’s or LP’s) from start to finish you will find yourself not just enjoying the songs themselves; but the clever way they lead from one to another keeping you engrossed in the thrills and spills of this absorbing Film Noir story line too, which comes to a conclusion with the powerful After The Storm which bleeds (quite literally) into the couple’s epitaph, Ballad of Johnny and Louise and closes with the haunting Country Blues of The Roads We Ride; which then reprises an instrumental Storm Warning; and then….. it’s all over. It’s not fair to say I like the second album more than first; but there are two of Wily Bo Walker’s best ever songs here and both are crucial to the story; but stand up and out as great songs in their own rite! To some degree Tennessee Blues is everything you would expect from a song of that title; but it also unravels and has twists and turns in every verse too. Then, there is Night of The Hunter; and boy does it live up to it’s Classic title…..and more! Searing guitar from Brayshaw lifts it to giddy heights before Walker crawls across the killing floor to deliver the Bluesiest song he’s ever written or I’ve heard this century. Several other songs on the album threaten to be this good; but here the duo deliver a sensory overload that will make your pulse quicken and your chest tighten for a solid 6 minutes, without letting you off the hook for a single second. By the way; this is the RMHQ Favourite Song here, if I hadn’t made that clear. As I said at the beginning, you can either listen to this as a collection of songs and thoroughly enjoy it in that manner; but you will be far get the best from this Album by following the narrative and investing in the well rounded, but ragged characters that inhabit this torrid tale.
Matt Andersen Halfway Home By Morning True North Records
Sweat Soaked and Emotionally Charged Songs For Lovers of All Ages.
Whenever I think of Matt Andersen I want to remember the staggering night I saw him stun a crowd of 100+ at the Jumpin’ Hot Club in Newcastle; but in reality it’s how his WEIGHTLESS album got me through many a long and sleepless night following my prostate operation in 2015……. it sounds a bit ‘twee’ but his songs really did ‘speak to me’ when I needed to hear something reassuring; and that’s what the Big Man did; and I will be forever grateful. Sermon over…… onwards and upwards. The first thing that struck me when I heard What Would Your Mama say; is that it has a big; nay HUGE sound to it; it’s not loud by any stretch of the imagination but; just like the album itself; the song fills the room ; especially when the McRary Sisters come and go like a host of musical Angels. It’s been quite a journey for Canadian Matt Andersen; from his raw Folk songs to now; with a more Soulful album than ever before; yet without ever compromising his Roots by one iota. Producer Steve Dawson; who supplies much of the backing instruments too; appears to have found the perfect ‘sound’ for these songs and Andersen’s amazing voice; which has been known to go off on a journey of its own at times; because it occasionally sounds like a wonderfully claustrophobic fog as Matt pours every ounce of his energy into Free Man, The Bed I Made and Help Yourself too. Andersen’s songwriting has matured alongside the way he uses his voice; and he has the knack of making very personal songs like the amazing Gasoline and Give Me Some Light sound like they were written about people you and I know and can actually name. But; I’m a sucker for a Love Song and Matt litters this with some of the finest I’ve heard since my teenage years; speaking of which Matt must have met someone I did with Mrs. Magpie to have been able to write Been My Last….. it sure didn’t come from his imagination. It’s a very honest and emotional way he puts together these songs; nothing soppy ….. just words from the heart on Better Than You Want and the pleading Take Me Back; which will squeeze the heart of many a listener, as it hits them where it hurts the most. The final track Quarter on the Ground finds Matt strumming his acoustic guitar ‘wishing he could talk one more time to his beloved Uncle Joe’ and again the McCrary Sisters do just enough in the background to be heard; but what they do is very special indeed on a very special song. All in all this album is a ‘keeper’ with every song touching me in one way or another; but two in particular have taken my breath away; as they definitely sound like Matt knows my life! While it’s a common theme; a musician writing about getting homesick while touring; Matt gives his story a romantic and authentic polish with a gloriously catchy chorus. On The Bed I Made he sounds like he’s actually singing about me; albeit in my darker moments and the combination of his ‘stubby fingers’ working their magic on the strings and the almost Gospellish chorus raises the bar very high for Roots Music! But….. that’s not even my Favourite Song here! That accolade goes to the duet with Amy Helm, Something To Lose; which in many ways; especially the way Andersen croons his love makes this ‘the best song Joe Cocker never recorded!’ Dear Lord Matt Andersen makes my stomach tighten and my throat go dry when he hits those notes as he sings…. “I’m gonna love you like I’ve got something to prove I’m gonna love you like I’ve got something to lose!” Hallelujah Brother! Ain’t that the truth? I don’t use the Joe Cocker analogy lightly; as alongside Steve Dawson’s awesome production, Matt sounds like he’s taken the baton from my favourite ever singer and is now moving into a more commercial stratosphere; and one his God Given Talent deserves great success with.
Cameron Hawthorn Dancing in the Living Room (Single)
Do you get times when coincidental things happen for no particular reason and you think “Wow…. why did that happen…….. then?” That’s how I feel this morning, with this special song and it’s accompanying video. An hour ago I’d never heard of Kansas’ Country Singer-Songwriter Cameron Hawthorn and now he’s blown me away and won my heart with his latest single ‘Dancing in the Living Room’. Why? It’s a really good song, of course; and the accompanying video (below) is rather exceptional….. but it’s because he’s encapsulated my feelings for Mrs. Magpie, who had a rather monumental birthday on Friday and……….. we had our own ‘little dance’ in the Living Room to * ‘our song’ last night! Talk about perfect timing!
A little about Cameron Hawthorn.
‘Dancing In The Living Room’ narrates the feeling of dancing with a loved one in the most intimate of places. Featuring organic instrumentation and passionate heartfelt vocals that glide gently atop the soft sweeping melodies, the single is a wholehearted love song. The visuals follow multiple couples of all sexualities, dancing together in their intimate spaces, including Hawthorn and his partner. This is Hawthorn’s coming out letter to his fans. Hawthorn confides, “I remember always thinking how special it was to dance freely with my boyfriend in the living room of our apartment – being gay, it’s not as easy to dance as a couple in public together as it is for a straight couple. I wanted to express how special that moment is for a couple, when it’s just the two of you in the privacy of your own four walls”.
JP Soars & The Red Hots Southbound I-95 Soars High Productions
All Hail Swamp Rock & Roll From the Blues Lagoon.
Nearly everything about this album has surprised me, from the quirky cartoon cover, right through to I-Tunes listing my download as ‘Blues’. Yup; there’s certainly ‘Blues Music’ in here, but there’s Swamp Music, Hill Country, Surf guitar and some crackling Singer-songwriter songs straight from the Classic Folk Songbook too…….This is Roots Music Deluxe! Oh man! Soars cracked and crackling voice on opening track, It Ain’t No Dahnia Beach reminded me of so many of my favourite singers; but sounds like none of them whatsoever! Lived in? Yup. Expressive? Yup. Leathery? Yup. And more, I guess….. but it’s so wonderful the way he delivers his words I felt I was sitting on a beach in Carolina or or the backwaters of Florida watching the coolest band on earth playing in the ramshackle bar. That feeling remains right through the album btw. If you aren’t sitting drinking beer watching this band; these songs make the perfect soundtrack to the drive to such a bar! Title track Southbound I-95 opens with some of the dirtiest Surf guitar this side of Dick Dale, and the song sounds like it could or should be from a Tarantino movie; as do Satisfy My Soul and the Mambotastic Dog Catcher which has had my shaking my hips more than once; I can admit. Roots Music comes in many shapes and forms; but very rarely is it this much fun! JP Soars gives us an absolute Roots Gumbo with some N’Orleans R&B on The Grass Ain’t Always Greener, a healthy dose of Memphis Soul glides though Shining Through The Dark and both versions of Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me (especially the sweary version!) is a weird Dr. John/Duane Eddy hybrid with a Country Noir spine to it. Soars and his chums can really, really get their Rocks Off when they put their collective mind to it too; with some searing and sizzling guitar complimenting JP’s grizzled vocals on the exquisite Born in California and again on Troubled Waters, which might be the finest Southern Rock song I’ve heard in nigh on 40 years! There are even three fabulous instrumentals dotted throughout, which act as musical palette cleansers; and in another life Arkansas Porch Party, When You Walk Out The Door and the atmospheric Go With The Flow with it’s quirky ending would be the basis for a whole album of such tunes, were it not for JP Soars amazing voice having to take precedence. Aha! On such a parcel of delights how can I choose a Favourite Song? Quite easy when you have such good taste as what I have (hahaha)……. while there are actually a few contenders I’m choosing the Blues and Mariachi drenched Deep Down in Florida, which makes my spine tingle every time I hear Albert Castiglia and Soars himself duelling on those magical guitar solos. I don’t know when you will be reading this; but I’m writing as I suffer with an ear infection; and such is the power of JP Soars and his album SOUTHBOUND I-95 I can’t stop myself smiling and tapping my toes. All Hail Roots Rock & Roll!