Heart-warming Quaint and Quirky Songs From Irish Singer-Songwriter.
Eamon Friel is one of those names that crop up every couple of years at Festivals and on the club circuit; yet I’ve never seen him play before, which I actually find odd. He’s released quite a few albums over the years and I love the fact that he is still employed by BBC Northern Ireland writing and performing ‘topical songs with a political flavour’……now there’s a skilled job!
His latest EP of four self-penned songs, opens with Takeaway, which is a bit of a delight actually; as Friel recalls the time he moved to London as an ‘innocent 18 year old Irish boy’ and took work in a Chinese restaurant…..as you do. The characters are all very well observed, especially the owner Mr. Woo, who sings while cooking and the unrequited love of young Eamon; Jasmine. It’s the type of song only an Irishman can write; making you laugh, smile and sigh all at the same time.
Track #2 Across is more up my street; a charming modern folk song; featuring some intricate guitar and accordion accompanying the story of a young man skimming stones onto a lake and dreaming of what lies beyond that mysterious horizon. Funnily enough it’s another song that will make you smile and sigh; but for entirely different reasons.
The short disc comes to a close far too quickly with a song from another of Eamon Friel’s earlier albums Here Is The River; and All The Lost Things really highlights Friel’s imaginative songwriting and storytelling. After seeing a tattered leather jacket tangled in a tree the writer then sets off on a journey recounting ‘All The Lost Things’ he has seen and owned including a ‘lost sheep’…..is that the singer or someone else; we don’t find out, but it’s a wonderful tale.
Which all brings us to my favourite song here. Well; if you’d described it to my two weeks ago I would have sneered at you for not knowing my musical taste at all…..yet……the traditionally comical, folk song James Joseph Alphonsus never fails to make me smile and usually sing along (sometimes out loud!) whenever I play it. The song about a boy with an old fashioned name couldn’t be any more Irish if it was played on shamrocks and Guinness glasses! Everything about it should have made me press FF but no; this old fashioned love song about a Mammy and her son is actually quite beautiful in every which way; making it our song of the week at RMHQ.
As a ‘sampler’ of his work; this EP works exceptionally well showcasing an exceptional songwriter who can glide in and out of ‘moods’ with the greatest of ease; which is quite some talent.
RELEASED 10th March 2017
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
FRONT PORCH SESSIONS
Thirty Tigers/Family Owned
The Soundtrack For The Morning After A Raucous Party The Night Before.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect here; and when I played it the first evening I received it I think I was a little bit disappointed.
In fairness to the Reverend and Breezy, that’s not fair at all…..as I was probably expecting something as uplifting as their last album So Delicious; which came out of the traps like a greyhound on steroids.
Here, We Deserve a Happy Ending which opens Front Porch Sessions is a slow Country Blues straight out of the Delta; making me do a double take; as did the whole album that first night.
Here I am two weeks later and this album has now gone into my potential Top 10 for 2017!
Why so? If So Delicious was the soundtrack to the greatest Saturday night ever; Front Porch Sessions is the morning after; when everything is working in slow motion; apart from your heart.
Now I hear We Deserve a Happy Ending for what it is, I absolutely love it, the Reverend’s guitar playing is as cool and raw as ever and the melody the trio create is toe-tappingly good; plus the sentiment is just perfect for how I am feeling at the moment.
Boy oh boy can these guys write a song, What You Did to The Boy Ain’t Right is immediately followed by One Bad Shoe and take us back to the days when our man was learning his trade listening to the Blues Masters like Bukka White and Charlie Patton; but here he takes their lead and successfully puts his very own modern stamp on a very traditional style of music.
There are a couple of the bands’ older songs re-jigged to fit into this scrumptious ‘morning after’ mood; with Cornbread and Butterbeans probably the ‘fastest’ song here; but stripped back to basics compared to it’s original version and dare I say it; sounding even better!
Fitting in perfectly with the songs here are two instrumentals; It’s All Night Long and the amusingly titled Flying Squirrels both show what amazing and dexterous musicians The Reverend, Breezy and Maxwell Senteney are.
Sitting here tonight, basking in the half-light, I’ve just changed my mind as to my favourite track here…it was going to be the red raw Gospel version of Let Your Light Shine but the rascally Shakey Shirley had me smiling and tapping out the beat as I was typing; and it has to be said I very nearly began shaking my hips to it as I brewed some coffee!
After the success of So Delicious it would have been all too easy for the band to try and recreate that magic for a follow up; but instead they have gone back to their roots and what Roots they are to give us something we didn’t know we wanted, but actually needed….real, old-school 21st Century Country Blues.
Released March 10th 2017
Gut Punching and Heart Shredding Canadiacana.
Levi Cuss? What a great name and thankfully the music here is just as good and indeed interesting.
I wasn’t quite prepared for Cuss’s smooth yet weather worn voice on opening track Red City River ; but it more than matches the Twangy guitar and desperately honest and raw lyrics of a modern folk tale.
The pedal-steel that opens and closes the ‘talking Blues’ Pills cuts through this sad story like a cut-throat razor; and couldn’t be any more fitting.
Legendary Canadian producer Steve Dawson has done an excellent job bringing out the pathos in songs like Tecumseh; a tale of redemption for a man who murdered a woman’s brother and Dark Horses; showcasing Cuss’s storytelling and voice while making the overall song very cinematic; which is quite some feat.
It appears Levi Cuss has had his ‘demons’ over the years; but haven’t all the great songwriters? Here he manages to turn some of those episodes into songs; with the dark and broody Saturday Night being a great example as is the Country Boogie of Bringing it Back……both being Country Outlaw songs for the Alt. Country generation.
But like all ‘bad boys’ there’s always a woman in his life that he can’t live without; and in this case it’s Grandma; and let’s just say that the Grandma in this song is quite some lady indeed!
I’m torn between the dark almost Tom Pettyesque Tongues and the late night Honk-Tonker Cut My Teeth as my favourite track; and after tossing a coin will go for the latter; mostly because it somehow encapsulates the spirit of the whole album in just under four and a half minutes. Searing guitar, a story from the mean streets of down-town and Levi Cuss pouring his heart and soul out.
I can’t forget Murder of Crows; a rattling good slice of Alt. Country which features some really mean Hammond organ too.
What’s not to like?
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve praised Canadian singer-songwriters and bands over the last ten years; but there really is something special in the water up there; giving us some of the most authentic Country and Americana that’s available today; and Levi Cuss is a talent that deserves to be heard around the globe.
UK Release March 10th 2017
The Writer (EP)
Beauteous, Brittle and Atmospheric Americana Inspired Lo-Fi From Finland.
A few years ago Son #1 who lives in Finland was taken on a date to see a Finnish Folk-Rock band called Ochre Room, and halfway through the gig he thought ‘My Dad will love these!’ and much to the young lady’s horror (Finnish people are notoriously shy) he introduced himself to the singer at the end of the gig and explained that his Dad was a writer for Maverick magazine in the UK…..they were impressed and gave him a copy of their CD.
A year later I actually interviewed the band for said magazine and stardom surely beckoned….alas not. and like so many other young bands they appeared to have just fizzled out.
Then; totally out of the blue I revived an e-mail yesterday from the singer Lauri Myllymäki who has now formed a new group called Bone Moon, and attached a link to their debut EP.
To some degree starting where Ochre Room left off, opening song The Writer is stunning in its complexity; as one voice, a guitar, a banjo and something called a jouhikko combine to create a haunting slice of Arcadian Americana that you would normally associate with the likes of Fleet Foxes or Cowboy Junkies, not three young people from rural Finland.
Track #2 Bone Moon; is full of shimmering cymbals, plucked banjo and cello (?) as well as some almost Classical guitar alongside Myllymäki’s ethereal voice on a song that is as deep and dark as it is mysterious and will stay in your memory bank long after the record has stopped.
Lady Noon; is the type of cryptic love song that music fans have tried to unravel for decades; but I chose to just let it wash over me like a velvet fog; and yet again Lauri’s voice just melts into your heart.
This far too short EP closes with False Fires, the closest thing here to ‘commercial Folk music’; the sort that I would listen to by Nick Drake or John Martyn with the lights off as I wondered if I would ever find love…..you know the type of song; and Bone Moon capture that feeling better than anyone I’ve listened to in many a year.
What more can I say? I was probably pre-destined to like anything which featured Lauri Myllymäki singing; but these four songs have far exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to actually see and hear these songs played live either in the UK or Finland.
Released March 10th 2017.
10,000 Feet Below
Powerful Detroit Blues Rock That Simply Oozes Soul.
In fairness if I’d been in a record shop I would have quickly passed by this disc as the quirky artwork on the album cover says absolutely nothing about the music inside. Thankfully the shuffle mode on my I-Pod knows what my tastes are and threw up three track last week; and here I am revelling in the musical delights that Eliza Neals has to offer.
Track #1 Cleotus opens with some bottle neck Resonator guitar before Ms. Neals purrs into the mix with a hypnotic Gothic love song, that sent shivers down my spine.
This is followed by some more sublime bottle-neck on a Another Lifetime; which is the type of song Johnny Winter would have called, “Low down dirty Blues,” the type of passionata that you associate with Janis Joplin; but sadly Janis never sounded this damn good.
By the time we reach the title track 10,000 Feet Below Eliza has already run the gamut of nearly everything we know as ‘The Blues’ and here she fights and wins a battle with a heart-stopping bass and a scintillating guitarist in Howard Glazer; and the song itself is a peach.
Ms. Neals not only has a ‘Helluva’ voice; soft enough to be listened to repeatedly and gritty enough to be identifiable too; but she plays a mean piano (Rhodes and Hammond) too!
You Ain’t My Dog Anymore and Call Me Moonshine are modern-classic Blues-Rockers in the making; with Eliza sounding as sexy as a Hell-cat on heat while Glazer produces sparks from his guitar as the rhythm section keep the whole damn thing on the rails in the background.
Cold, Cold Night and Call Me Moonshine don’t just show the singer’s versatility but her knowledge of Blues History too with a couple of scorching ballads.
Sadly one of my favourite magazines Classic Blues closed down late in 2016; and one of their features would be a comparison between a modern take on a Classic Blues song with the original; and I’d be fascinated to hear what they thought about Eliza Neals interpretation of Skip James’ Killing Floor. This was one of the tracks I-Shuffle played and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t recognise it at first; which is a good thing if you are going to cover something; put your own stamp on it; and Eliza does that with spike heels!
With Blues Rock; everyone is going t. like something different; and Eliza offers a huge selection of entrées to choose from; but for me I simply love Downhill on a Rocket. A mid-paced, sassy and sleazy slice of Blues that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy or (my hero) Johnny Winter album.
There are a lot of good young ladies in the Blues Rock field these days; with each one offering their own ‘speciality’ in their quest to oust Bonnie Raitt from the throne, and probably only Beth Hart currently has the skills and songs to crossover into the mainstream; but I think Eliza Neals, with Howard Glazer at her side could run her a good race judging by this wonderful album.
Released 17 February 2017
Cool Adult Orientated Scallywag Jazz Infused Alt. Rock.
As I keep saying RMHQ is currently being inundated with new music everyday, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the time to listen to absolutely everything in the to-do box; sadly meaning some potentially great albums are getting missed out…..so….apologies everyone.
This morning on a whim I selected Bonomo on the I-pod for my walk to the shops for the Sunday papers; don’t know why, perhaps it was their intriguing name….who knows; but after listening to Adam Bonomo’s softly pleading voice and the tightly wrapped, guitar, keyboards and tsch-tsch drumming on opening song Baby’s Alright, I decided to take the long way home via the village coffee shop which had put a couple of tables outside to celebrate the first sunny, but chilly day of Spring 2017.
Three strong Americano’s and a warm croissant later I finally had to go home after sitting watching the world go by, listening to the rest of PHASES on my headphones.
‘Tightly Wrapped’ and ‘Adult Orientated’ are the best ways to describe songs like Redshifted and Do Need with it’s breathy vocals and ‘dinner-jazz’ vibe; especially Andrew Renfroe’s guitar that slices through Bonomo’s Jimmy Smith inspired playing on the keyboards.
While the Press Release describes Bonomo as Alternative-Folk meets R&B; my thoughts are more towards Donald Fagan’s The Nightfly album and possibly Holland by the Beach Boys, with a smattering of John Legend too for good measure.
When you listen to Water and the starkly beautiful Do Need in particular its virtuously impossible to comprehend that the ‘sound’ New Yorkers Adam Bonomo and guitarist Andrew Renfroe comes from two people and two people alone without the aid of any multi-tracking……they somehow manage to fill every cubic inch of the speakers without ever sounding loud.
Two very different songs tie for ‘favourite song,’ the dreamy late night lounge Jazz of Repeating could easily appear on a Blue Note album but Show Her Love, which follows is the most uptempo song here and really shows not only the range of Bonomo the band have; but Adam Bonomo’s voice has too.
Released February 19th 2017
What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?
We don’t normally do this, but following three holiday tours with Nick Lowe, America’s foremost instrumental guitar combo Los Straitjackets couldn’t help but ask the question, “What would Nick Lowe’s songs sound like as instrumentals?” On May 19, the Grammy-nominated guitar heroes will answer that question with the release of What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Los Straitjackets on Yep Roc Records.
Produced by Neil Brockbank, Nick Lowe’s producer and longtime collaborator, the band delves into 13 of Lowe’s most iconic songs from his illustrious career with original arrangements. The album also features longstanding Lowe band member Geraint Watkins on keyboards, the recording debut of Royston Lowe on percussion, and a vocal cameo by Lowe himself on an undisclosed track.
So, until then….here’s the title track!
Compass/Lazy Eye Records
Creative, Mature, Passionate and Smart Set of Songs.
I still blush at the thought of the last time I reviewed a Colin Hay album; thinking it was a ‘debut’ only to find the multi-award winning ex-singer with Rock Royalty Men at Work had already released 10 or so solo albums!
Baring in mind that fine pedigree opening track Come Tumblin’ Down is a slightly ‘ragged around the edges’ Celtic-Rocker, of the easy on the ear persuasion; not unlike Van Morrison on a good day.
Although Colin Hay first found fame in Australia and is now living in the USA his Scottish accent comes through on nearly every song; which might explain that ‘Celtic’ feel to The Best In Me and the slow burning Two Friends, which has more than a hint of Frankie Miller to it at times.
It’s no real surprise that a songwriter of Hay’s pedigree can write a good song; but this collection is way better than ‘good’!
In other, younger hands I’m Going to Get You Stoned could be a bit sleazy; but the way he puts his words across this becomes an ‘Autumnal love song’ that many of us can align with; or at least the sentiment.
‘Love’ and relationships are a thread that binds these songs together, with the timeless Secret Love and A Thousand Million Reasons being at the polar opposite of that spectrum; we may all have experienced a little bit of each at one time or another; and Hay’s lyrical prowess will make you sigh and smile at both for different reasons.
Colin Hay is not just a songwriter; but a storyteller too and a masterful one too, as Frozen Fields of Snow proves. The singer inhabits the character of a war veteran returning to the family home after outliving the rest of what appears to be an unhappy mix of family. Not quite as radio-friendly as most other tracks here; it does show what a vivid imagination Hay has.
My copy of the album is the Deluxe Version, with three extra tracks, and it’s one of these tracks, the break-up song Love Don’t Mean enough that just falls short of taking the ‘favourite track’ accolade.
That title goes to the heart-rending She Was The Love of Mine; which he wrote for his own Mother who died three years previously and even though my own mother died nearly 40 years ago, each line in his song took my breath away; such is his way with words.
After all these years it would be all too easy for Colin Hay to rest on his laurels somewhere warm and tropical; making the occasional foray to make a ‘covers album’; but no…..he still has ‘something to say’ and judging by this album it’s certainly worth listening to.
RELEASED March 3rd 2017
Benjamin Folke Thomas
Intelligent and Articulate Alt. Country With a Folk Soul.
Sometimes RMHQ receive albums only days or hours before the release date; but on occasion they arrive months in advance; giving us the opportunity to give the music the time it deserves. That has been the case with COPENHAGEN by Swedish singer-songwriter Benjamin Folke Thomas.
Opening song Good Enough For Me; is splendidly wonderful! The delicate pop-melody masks a bittersweet love song; chock-full of marvelous imagery in the lyrics. If the opening line “I wish I could come down from this pedestal/Don’t know how I managed to climb an object so tall” doesn’t grab you by the heartstrings, I don’t know what will.
Benjamin is almost poetic in the way he uses and chooses words and expressions; most probably from his youth when he immersed himself in the works of Dylan, Cohen and…..Cobain!
Of course being Swedish means that there is an all pervading darkness throughout the album; but songs like Safe & Secure and Hold On break through any perceived ‘fog’ like the suns warm rays and are destined to make you sing, think and smile which is quite an achievement.
The title track Copenhagen 30/06 really does put the Alternative into Country and Folk; coming across as an intoxicating mix of Michael Nesmith, Warren Zevon and even Bap Kennedy the way he masks a sad story beneath a snappy delivery; and the images the song conjures up would make a great monochrome video.
A staccato like delivery over an electronic drumbeat coupled with a tingling pedal-steel; shouldn’t be something I would normally like, but perhaps it’s the mood I’m in, yet I really love Bad News.
Regular readers will know I do like a good love song; and while Struck Gold and Gimmee a Smile won’t ever feature on those TV advertised 40 Greatest Love Song CDs; they both touched me deeply and have been filed away for when I need a good gloomy sad love song.
On an album that treats the listener like a grown up; my very favourite song is a bit of an oddity; but only odd in the subject matter and the droll; almost Leonard Cohen way Benjamin Folke Thomas delivers it.
Finn is a song very much ‘of our time’ with the songwriter subtly very subtly comparing a 49 year old Palestinian Doctor, refugee whom he worked with in a ‘cash in hand’ job 120 years ago with his own Grandfather, Finn, who was a Communist in WWII fighting the Nazis eventually becoming a ‘refugee’ in Sweden. In the last verse Thomas sings of the sister who played him ‘Punk Rock’ and now lives in India with a child that has ‘olive skin and laughing eyes.’
You will interperate the song any way you want; but for me it really punches holes into the the sorry state of our world these days.
Benjamin Folke Thomas isn’t your ordinary singer-songwriter, his songs need to be listened to and at times are quite challenging; but the effort you put in is well worth it and repaid many, many times over as the songs crawl into your heart and soul.
RELEASED March 3rd 2017
Bill Kirchen & Austin de Lone
Proper Music/The Last Music Co.
The Titan and The Godfather of Pub Rock Rip It Up In The Lounge.
If you already know these two names you will buy this ‘historic’ album anyways; and if you don’t I think you are on the wrong the website!
Bill co-founded Commander Cody nearly 100 years ago; even before Country Rock was born, never mind Alt. Country and Austin de Lone goes down in British music history as a member of Eggs Over Easy who were the founders of Pub Rock, which begat…….you do the Googling.
As friends and colleagues since those heady days in the 70’s Bill and Austin have played together on stage and in the studio many times; but never actually made an album together…..that wrong is righted here.
TRANSATLANTICANA couldn’t open with anything other than a gorgeous slice of trademark Bill Kirchen. Quirky, funny and intelligent lyrics, tipping a hat towards Merle and Company on top of some of the sweetest Telecaster and Baritone geetar your ears will ever hear.
Kirchen takes the lead again on the following track Wine, Wine, Wine only this time Bobby Black compliments the sad song with some sweet pedal steel alongside Bill’s trademark guitar sound, while De Lone comes and goes at ease on the piano in the corner.
As expected the ‘Country Rockers’ come thick and fast; with Butch Hancock’s Oxblood giving Austin the opportunity to happily punch the piano keys through to the floor as Kirchen and Hancock trade words and licks like feisty teenagers.
If I didn’t know any better I’d have thought All Tore Up was a Rockabilly classic, but it’s not it’s from the pen of Austin De Lone and allows him to take lead on vocals and piano and the world is a whole better place for it!
While I love the fast paced tracks with all of my heart; my soul keeps making me go back to the slow and tender ‘lounge’ songs that are included; not just because I wasn’t expecting them (which I wasn’t) but because each one is staggeringly sad and beautiful.
On Losing Hand De Lone and Kirchen sound like the house band at midnight in a run down club in the dangerous part of Vegas; singing to and for all the losers and hustlers cradling their last drink of the evening. Tucked away towards the end the duo tear up Dylan’s hoary old The Times They Are a Changing; filling it with the bile and fire first associated with it nearly 50 years ago; but sadly missing from most interpretations.
Warm and Tender Love is a serious contender for ‘favourite track’ especially as it has the warmth and depth of something Nick Lowe would sing; but has the fragility of Goffin and King too.
Another could be the Country-Gospel Somebody’s Going Home too; but my heart and soul concur that Back in The Day ticks every box there is in Country Music.
Written by Kirchen’s wife Louise; the singer looks back on those hazy, crazy days of 1969 when they all had flowers in their hair but ‘they had tear gas and guns’ as they sang ‘we shall overcome’…..sadly this song is all too appropriate for 2017, and the doleful way Kirchen uses his voice; as the band create a tension that is nearly frightening make for a song that deserves to be heard by Politicians and their volatile supporters of all hues around the world.
If you are lucky as me, your copy will include the bonus tracks No Need For Knocking and the legendary Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette too.
Baring in mind this album was recorded in several sessions across several cities on both sides of the Atlantic, Malcolm Mills production and the razor sharp editing come together to create an album that sounds like it was recorded in one glorious session that went on late into the night.
I’ve seen Bill Kirchen play live many times over the years; and for once he doesn’t try to recapture that magic on disc. This is an ‘actual album’ full of songs and immaculate playing by musicians who are all at the top of their game; recreating this sound on stage will be a problem for another day.
Released March 3rd 2017