Alejandro Escovedo & Don Antonio
A Soundtrack Befitting a 21st Century Grapes of Wrath.
I normally tense up at the mere mention of something being a ‘concept album’ but anything from one of our musical heroes, Alejandro Escovedo has to be of interest around the RMHQ office; and now I’ve played it back to back 5 times I’ve come to think of THE CROSSING as more of a soundtrack to a film that hasn’t yet been made……but should be ASAP.
Together again with Italian band Don Antonio who he toured the UK with a year or so back; Escovedo’s imagination runs riot on this epic tale of two boys, one Italian and the other Mexican who meet up in Texas as they both chase The American Dream.
The orchestral score Andare neatly sets the scene for this amazing tale to unfold as the scarily haunting Footsteps in the Shadows follows; with Escovedo whispering the lyrics as his young character eventually makes it over the Border then the story swiftly moves onto Texas Is My Mother which may……or may not be the happy ending that one boy had dreamt of for so long.
I’ve been a fan of Alejandro Escovedo for a lot of years now and while I never expected him to create such a set of powerful songs as this; I’m not surprised either, as many of the themes here have littered his more recent releases.
Cleverly leading from one to another songs like How Many Times, Something Blue and the beautifully sad Cherry Blossom Rain all stand tall and alone on their own strengths with absolutely nothing else added just for the sake of moving the story along.
As with all of the best Soundtracks there are swings to the left here and there with Rio Navidad being a spoken word tale, read out so hauntingly by his Richmond Fontaine bandmate Freddy Trujillo about a Texas Ranger called Diego; and written by Wily Vlautin is as poetic as it is almost operatic in the way the few short minutes twists and turns.
With the benefit of hindsight, the instrumental Amor Puro and Silver City, which would befit Randy Newman counterbalance the Punk Rock onslaught of Fury and the Fire; Sonica USA and MC Overload , but all four need to be here to tell this story in all it’s glory and gory.
Finding an individual Favourite Song was never going to be easy; but betting without the awesome title track THE CROSSING which closes the record I’m going for the quintessential Outlaw For You which is everything you’d expect from Alejandro Escovedo; especially when he’s at his feistiest and most literal.
Because of the subject matter in these songs, it’s fair to say that THE CROSSING isn’t always ‘easy listening’ but; it is Essential Listening; baring in mind what is happening in parts of the US of A that even five years ago no one would have even dared imagine happening in their lifetime.
Even after 14 albums, of ever increasing intensity and verbosity this, possibly is the record that Alejandro Escovedo was always destined to make; and hopefully will be well and truly rewarded when the Awards Ceremonies come around; but I won’t hold my breath.
Released September 14th 2018
Darkly Eloquent Stories From Lonely Street, Nashville.
Here’s a funny story.
After struggling to get my head around the new album from Nashville ‘go to’ Singer-Songwriter Ruston Kelly over a couple of weeks; and then spending two valuable hours last Saturday writing a review of it; I found out that the music I’d been listening to wasn’t Ruston Kelly at all!
Somehow I had misfiled the album on my computer ……so there’s now a ghost review awaiting an actual artist!
So……Ruston Kelly and DYING STAR?
Opening song Cover My Tracks is certainly windswept and interesting; as a world weary singer with a ‘lived in voice’ takes us on a journey into the darker recesses of Ryan Adams and Justin Townes Earle territory; and the outcome is rather beautiful too; especially when he sings “These are the golden years/Thought I’d never find em.” in such a droll voice.
That pervading mood becomes ever more intense, starting with next song Mockingbird which has a poetic feel to Kelly’s touching, yet angsty love song and later on with the sparse Just For the Record too.
While I can’t really imagine anyone other than Ruston Kelly singing the plaintive Blackout or the self-depreciating Faceplant; when he starts it with “I took too many pills again/Blacked out for a week/Didn’t eat/Didn’t sleep/Came too and did it again” …… but then again; as it unfolds into a song of hope perhaps I can.
The subject matter of Kelly’s songs is fascinating; with Paratroopers Battlecry being a heartbreaking look back at his younger days and loves; and the song that really touched my heart Big Brown Bus being a tale of abject loneliness as the narrator travels across Texas on said mode of transport.
Hmmmm; it’s fair to say after only half a day every song here could be my Favourite Song; but I’ve somehow whittled it down to a straight choice between two…… Brightly Burst Into Air, simply because it’s a very articulate and vulnerable Country Folk song and the other is the title track Dying Star; which is just plainly different from everything I expected from a ‘Country’ album; but one that goes some way to redefining the genre.
I realise better than anyone that there are a zillion singer-songwriters on the scene these days and all have their merits; but now (I’ve finally) heard it, DYING STAR is one of those rarities; it’s ‘immediate’ with Kelly’s distinctive voice coupled to a classic story telling style making you believe these songs have been in your life forever.
PS I will only mention it now; as she has nothing to do with the recording of these songs Ruston Kelly’s wife is Kacey Musgraves; so there.
Released September 7th 2018
Marla & David Celia
Love, Politics and Acutely Probing Worldly Observations.
Many years ago I remember seeing an advert in a Sunday newspaper for ‘Mood Music’ ……..I think it was the sound of whales farting or something; but the adage has stayed with me until now; and I can’t think of a better description for this delightful Folk/Americana hybrid from the ever wonderful David Celia and a new name to us, Marla Winkler………’Mood Music’……. but ‘Good Mood’ music.
Carry It On, the first thing you hear is a wonderfully dreamy three minutes with David sounding not unlike Neil Young on the high notes (which he hits and they stay hit!) and the harmonies produced by Ms Winkler are the sort you’d normally expect from a sibling……and the lyrics aren’t too shabby either.
This is the reason I put such great stead in albums having a good first song…….I was instantly hooked.
Things get a bit more jaunty on the Hill Country flavoured love song Lover Of Mine duet; which follows; nearly taking Marla and David into Dolly and Porter territory if I’m not mistaken.
In the accompanying bio the couple’s relationship is never actually made clear; but when they sing a love song not just sparks fly but rainbows come out of the speakers too on the title track Daydreamers and the song that captured Mrs. Magpie’s attention Heart Like a Dove; where again the couple appear to be singing to each other, without a care in the world that someone may be listening.
While plenty of tracks here could be described as ‘love songs’ the couple also squeeze in some acutely observational songs that err on the side of the politico spectrum; with the atmospheric Brave New World being a prime example, and Luddite Blues being the couple’s homage to Pete Seeger; and a contender for RMHQ Favourite Track at one stage.
Which neatly brings me to the award of Favourite Track; and even though the whole album could actually be worthy; I very nearly went for I Am Her Man which is a tightly wrapped ode of love and cracked my heart when I first heard it; but I’m now going for the winsome Warming Words which features Marla on lead and David on guitar and ghostly harmonies. If this hard working and touring couple had only ever produced one song together and it was this one; they could be rightly proud of the outcome on this one.
There really is so much to like here, from David Celia’s exquisite songwriting which take on a whole new life when sung alongside Marla Winkler, as both have not just complimentary voices; but styles that truly blend into one and the production, while simple still manages to fill any room you hear the songs in; which is quite some accomplishment for a ‘Folk’ album.
Released August 17th 2018
Anton & The Colts
NO END OF THE LINE
Country Rock Deluxe From The Clydeside Delta.
As I said a couple of weeks ago; it’s becoming very popular for one review on RMHQ to beget another from an artiste who read the original words and thought “I bet my album would fit in there too.”
Which brings us to a Scottish Americana act called Anton & The Colts and their debut album, which really, really does fit into our crazy little world like a hand in a glove.
You all know by now I judge everything by the strength of the opening track; and here the muscular Alright captured my attention within seconds. Anton’s breathy and gravelly voice alongside a white hot band make compelling listening; and your investment pays off handsomely with a very well constructed Americana/Country song; that belies it’s Scottish roots.
For some reason; and I hope I’m wrong I can’t help imagining the band wearing faded flared jeans and Converse Allstars as their luscious long hair flops across their faces when I hear the likes of Blues to Bed and Rock and a Hard Place; as they are both Country Rock Deluxe, making me hark back to the time I discovered bands like The Burritos and Poco decades ago.
Several of my friends who take their music far too seriously are going to miss out here; simply because Anton & The Colts don’t come from Tulsa or Fresno; but trust me this album is 100% Americana with Weekend Millionaire and Gypsy Heart being the type of sharply observed imagery that writers in East Nashville (and South London!) would give their Apple Mac to release.
To some degree what I like best here is the way this band blend imaginative light and shade throughout, reflecting real life and real people in The Summer That Could Never Be Outdone and the darkly delightful From My Fear too.
My choice of Favourite Track won’t please everyone; as to the uninitiated it will just sound gloomy; but it’s a song that hit me like a punch to the heart the first time I heard it; and I have subsequently wallowed in the richly observed tale of personal depression that is My Black Dog and Me for many days and nights now.
A very brave song to write and even braver to put music too and release out into the wild; but an articulate tale that sums up this horrible ‘feeling’ one gets as well as any one else I can think of.
There really is a lot to like; and be impressed with here and it’s obvious that Anton & The Colts have ‘paid their dues’ for many years before going into the studio; and the result is pretty damn exciting and deserves to be heard by an appreciative audience South, East and West of Hadrian’s Wall!
Released 7th September 2018
Tuesday 4th September 2018
Is she an actress who sings or a singer who acts? That was my dilemma a few weeks ago when I was about to review the star of the Nashville TV series’ Clare Bowen’s debut album release.
Afterwards it was pretty apparent that it was the latter; as the young Australian really can sing, which made us pretty excited when it was announced she would be playing Sage Gateshead in early September.
Because of work commitments I arrived as support act Striking Matches were on stage; so rather than disrupt proceedings we decided to have a relaxing drink in the foyer for once, before making our way into the pretty full Hall 1 us the lights were dimming.
The band entered the stage in the dark and were already playing as a spotlight lit up the far side of the stage and the smiling Clare Bowen, wearing a delightful golden dress and sporting feathers in her hair carefully made her way to the centre and launched into the powerful Where I Belong, which coincidently was the prefect choice to get the party started.
There really was so much to like tonight; Ms Bowen’s voice is quite staggering when heard live…….she can milk the emotion out of every single note on ballads like Ays Song and the song she wrote in the wake of the London Bridge and Manchester Arena attacks, Little By Little; but to me she sounds best when ‘rocking out’ on the Bluesy Let It Rain or Premonition which Mrs Magpie reminded me was from the TV series.
Then there were surprises galore with a couple of sultry duets with husband Brandon, who got to sing his own latest single, which went down very well with the appreciative crowd; and she also sat in awe as guitarist to the stars Colin Linden got his moment in the spotlight.
Highlights came in all shapes and sizes too; especially her stories linking to the songs usually being quite heartfelt, if occasionally a bit Hippyish in context; but that’s no real bad thing as the songs that followed like Lullaby and All The Beds I’ve Made were all the more memorable because of them.
As the show drew to a loud and danceable close, I was surprised to find there had been 20 songs including a medley of Country Classics and had lasted well over an hour and half; which had flown by.
One other thing about tonight; I was reminded a few times why I love live music; as this group of musicians made magic happen before my very eyes, turning random musical notes into moments that will stay in my mind for a long time to come.
This bit may seem odd; baring in mind ‘who’ Clare Bowen is and where she’s come from, but I really do think she has all the qualities, especially a voice to become a Bona-fide Country Star in the near future; and her acting career could well fall by the wayside.
Photo-Set by Harrisonaphotos
FORGET ABOUT GEORGIA (EP)
The Sound of Americana Plus.
Formed ten years ago; Lukas Nelson with Promise of the Real have pretty much flown under the radar even they more or less became Neil Young’s touring band in 2014, it wasn’t until last year that he and they came to my attention with the self titled album Promise of The Real; which is all quite odd as he’s one of Willie Nelson’s sons and has also played alongside his father since his teens.
But; as I said a year ago; this record isn’t about Willie or Neil…….it’s 100% Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real.
The opening track is a radio edit of Forget About Georgia from the last album and which owes as much to The Band as it does to anyone in Nelson’s life. A powerfully observational gut-wrenching tale of lost love that takes on a life of it’s own as Lukas’ pained voice and an understated backing, are interspersed with some spine tingling guitar interludes from the sharp end of the fretboard.
Later the same song gets majestically extended to a full on eight minutes and becomes something of a cinematic Americana Operetta that will have you clinging onto the armrests of your seat as the story slowly unfolds into a slow, sensual and dusty closure of almost epic proportions.
The second song Giving You Away follows in a similar steamy Southern fashion and would have made a great single in its own rite; as it’s the sort of heart breaking ballad that will have you pulling into the side of the road when it comes on the car radio.
With only five tracks to play with, and Forget About Georgia is repeated of course means that are really only 4 songs here; which is why the inclusion of a pretty note by note retreading of Bowie’s Life On Mars has baffled me for three weeks now. I have to presume it must be one of his favourite songs; but he doesn’t actually do anything new and he even sings in a ‘Flat Estuary’ accent which isn’t a million miles away from The Thin White Duke at that time in his life.
Then there is our Favourite Song here, by far ……Start To Go is more like it; as Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, take a giant step into the swaggering and rocking-most end of uncharted Americana Territory, and the result is staggering as, with the addition of some snarling punky geetar alongside harmonies that sound like the Georgia Satellites covering the Faces these guys show how professional they are; but can still have a ball too with a cracking Country Rock song that Rolls too……..please, please, please let this be the formula for the next album!
Released 7th September 2018
Mike Vernon & The Mighty Combo
BEYOND THE BLUE HORIZON
Finger-clicking and Soft Shoe Shuffling Party Music.
Mike Vernon is first and foremost a bona-fide legendary Record Producer and way back when was a co-founder of the Blue Horizon record label (which still features in my ever diminishing LP collection) but what I didn’t know was he was one of the lead singers in Rocky Sharpe & the Replays who once upon a time bothered the chart compilers; and here we find him having a shot at stardom under his own name.
Well; I doubt he intends Topping the Pops or whatever the harts are called these days; but this glorious mix of Rocking and Rolling Rhythm and Blues sounds like it was a blast to make and will bring joy to absolutely everyone who buys it!
The party gets started with We’re Gonna Rock The Joint, and when I say ‘party’ the only drugs on offer besides endorphins will be statins, warfarin and analgesics!
But that’s not the point, is it? This ‘good time’ music for ‘our generation’…….classic songs sung and played from the heart like Your Mind is on Vacation, Heart & Soul and (I Don’t Know Why I Love You) But I do rub padded shoulders with 9 Vernon penned newbies; that sound like they should have been on a Youth Club Jukebox as the 50’s merged into the 1960’s.
Vernon obviously fell in love with this style of music in his own youth and has waited until now to unleash his inner Duane Eddy on Be On That Train (with young Spaniard Kid Carlos making the strings sizzle) and even Fats Domino on Jump Up; which swings and shimmy’s like a petticoat in a hurricane; and then on Kiddio he gets low down and mean in a snarling Cliff Richard manner.
Where to go for a Favourite Track?
I Can Fix It is obviously a finger-clicking contender and the sleazy A Love Affair With The Blues certainly has it’s merits (most notably because I imagine Sinatra tipping his trilby to it as Paul Jones blows a mean old harp beside him in my mind’s video) but I’m going for the slow and sultry Old Man Dreams; which could easily have been an alternate title for the album and is a tightly wrapped 6 and a half minutes of unrequited love that sum up pretty much how most of us (including the ladies) have felt at one time or another.
When you hear this belter of an album your mind will flash back to your youth, regardless of how old you are and that will make you feel so much better about how you feel today.
Released September 7th 2018
Jonas & Jane
SEDONA RAIN (EP)
Beautifully Delicate and Winsome Country Music From the Surrey Delta.
Charlie Jonas has been a friend of RMHQ for a year or so now; so when he got in touch a couple of weeks ago telling us he was releasing a 5 track EP with partner Katherine Jane it would have been churlish to turn down a review; now wouldn’t it?
The couple describe themselves as a ‘harmony duo from the UK’ and boy; are they underselling themselves!!
They are indeed a duo that sings in harmony; but there is much more here; starting with the windswept and gorgeous first song, Hold Me featuring Jonas on lead vocals and Katherine supplying velveteen harmonies that makes a good song extraordinary. Then of course there is the the eerie combination of pedal-steel and chromatic harmonica in the background…….phew; what a breathtaking opening few minutes.
It’s Katherine who steps forward on Too Little Time; which is more of timeless slice of Hill Country music that should be from Appalachia or the Blue Ridge Mountains; and certainly not Guildford in Surrey!
There really is so much to like here; and not just the two fabulous voices (both separate and in harmony) as the intricate guitar picking, Dobro, double-bass, banjo etc. is also from the couple themselves; and their songwriting is rather special too; with the single Don’t Cry For Me being the type of bittersweet break-up song you’d associate with the Civil Wars or even Emmylou and Rodney if I’m not mistaken in the way they squeeze every drop of emotion out of every word and note.
While there’s a dark thread weaving throughout all 5 songs; which is just how we likes our Country Music these days; I can’t help feeling that the word ‘lovely’ comes into play too; as everything here bares repeated listening and quite often too; most notably with the title track Sedona Rain I find myself silently mouthing the words as the duo tug at my heartstrings.
Then; there is Jumping Ship which again features Charlie on lead vocals; and Katherine harmonising like a ghost on a desperately sad song that could easily find it’s way onto an album by the Dixie Chicks, Faith or Miranda or their ilk……it really is that strong and indeed, classy.
I know Jonas and Jane visit America on holiday; but on the back of this EP surely a detour to Nashville beckons and with songs like these it’s not great a leap to think of them signing on as songwriters first and foremost; but that would be a huge shame as they have such a beautifully delicate and distinctive sound of their very own which should be enough to make the Big Time all by themselves.
Released September 7th 2018
1957 Tail Fin Fiasco
After what sounds like they’ve been immersing themselves in a 24 hour Prince-a-thon, with another couple of hours coming down on RMHQ Favourites The Kane Gang, our mates at 1957 Tail Fin Fiasco have gone back into their parents garage and come up with this staggering totally Radio Friendly single that will get the toes-a-tapping and the brain-a-thinking.
If this is anything to go by; the forthcoming LP, Harvard Tango is going t be something really special indeedy.
Released August 31st 2018
Inter-Generational Psych-Pop From The New Wave.
Over the last decade or so I’ve listened to less and less ‘Indie’ and the rest of its ilk; or as we like to call it here at RMHQ ‘Young People’s Music.’
It’s not that we don’t like it; just very little comes our way; but on car journeys I still take the occasional Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chefs or a couple of weeks ago; Franz Ferdinand’s first album.
Then a couple of days ago our mate Andy at Newcastle’s uber-cool Kaleidoscope Records dropped me a line asking if I’d like to hear Shields new Single/EP…….”Yes please.” Was my instant response.
Yikes, the guitars (three in all!) sound like the strings may have been wired directly to the mains; on the very, very Radio 6 friendly opening track Evidence, which is also the latest single and when singer Luke Elgie’s distinctively smooth voice enters the fray the song suddenly takes on a quintessentially poptastic life of its own; flitting between the catchiness of XTC and the edgy agitpop of the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Maximo Park which all combines to make for a fantabulous 4 minutes.
While evoking thoughts of several other electro-pop bands; I love the way Shields go their own way with very few thoughts of commercialism on the quirky and almost psychedelic Kaleidoscope while later Babel takes us into a mystical place that few millennials will ever have experienced until now.
While the overall sound that Shields create is based around a sparkling guitar and keyboards combo; they coolly don’t fit into any specific genre I can think of, and the hypnotic singing style of Rich Sutton is a truly great thing as the drive of Temporary Secretary proves with it’s punchy melody and slightly off-kilter story.
Then, of course I’m obliged to choose a Favourite Song. Obviously the single Evidence has to be a contender; but then again Formidable could and should be the follow up single, as it sounds like something I’d expect to hear at a Student Disco (if such things still exist!) but I’m rewinding back to track #2 I Already Know, which even if these crazy kids don’t realise it has it’s roots in albums by Traffic and Todd Rundgren from the 60’s and 70’s but with a very 21st Century kick to it too.
While firmly targeting the Younger Generation; and quite rightly so; this six track EP has plenty to offer the New Wave and Britpop Crowds and even old fogeys like me who still buy albums that have something fresh and interesting to offer while paying its respects to the past in equal measure.
Released August 31st 2018