Carrie Elkin THE PENNY COLLECTOR

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Carrie Elkin
THE PENNY COLLECTOR
Self-Release

Sensational Songs from the Poetic Edge of the Folk Spectrum.

Oh dear; this album by one of my favourite singer-songwriters very nearly got overlooked; such is the organisation on my desk at RMHQ.
Thankfully I found it just in time to scream its delights from the rooftops prior to its release.
I think I’ve seen Carrie play live 4 or 5 times now; either alongside her husband Danny Schmidt or more usually with Sam Baker and each time I hear her I think “She is too good for this, I want to see and hear her sing on her own!”
Then; as if by magic here is her fourth (or sixth if you count her firs 2 self-releases) album and; well…..keep reading.
Opening track New Mexico is absolutely spellbinding from start to finish; with Carrie’s crystal clear voice as she pours her heart out, dealing with the death of her father. Don’t worry. This isn’t maudlin; it’s a beautiful loving tribute for and about a very interesting man; and one I now wished I’d met.
This is followed by Always on the Run; possibly but less obviously about her father again, but words that touched me quite deeply as I lost my eldest brother only a couple of weeks prior to first hearing this touching song.
As usual I’d listened to THE PENNY COLLECTOR 3 or 4 times before reeding the accompanying Press Release; only to find that these songs were written and collated in a year where Carrie not only lost her father but gave birth to her first child; a daughter, which makes a lot of sense as songs like Tilt-A -Whirl and Niagara do sound like a wordsmith looking back at and reassessing their life in the most articulate manner.
With that theory in mind the snappy My Brother Said becomes ever more ‘interesting’ if it’s to be taken literally. I won’t give anything way; apart from the aggressively played electric guitar and the timbre in her voice resurrected some memories from my own life and I guess many out there will give a rye smile when they hear it too.
Again it was only when I read the notes that I realised the almost otherworldly rendition of American Tune wasn’t Carrie’s own words but those of Paul Simon! If you are going to cover a song; at least change it around…..and Carrie alongside producer Neilson Hubbard have turned this one upside down and inside out to create a minor masterpiece.
This is a compelling set of songs and must be heard as a complete work; but two songs in particular affected me quite profoundly, both very very different reasons and from both ends of the spectrum in Carrie’s ‘story’.
And Then The Birds Came is another song about her father; and with my own brother’s death still raw it caught me quite by surprise. While specifically about Richard Elkin (1942-2015) the sentiment is general enough to be about any loved one who has left our lives; which is the hallmark of a great songwriter.
The other Live Wire is about a rebellious daughter who was ‘Daddy’s little girl’ but ‘ran away to the Carnival’ before returning. I neither know nor care if this is a true story; because it’s such a cool and absorbing tale that I visualise an accompanying video I’m going to direct. It’s in mono/sepia with shots of Carrie singing and strumming her guitar interspersing with the character drifter in and out of shot via dream sequences……just a thought, well; it’s my thoughts actually.
If you’ve not heard of Carrie Elkin before; think Nanci Griffith or Emmylou Harris with an extra spark and sparkle and you will be somewhere in the vicinity.
Coincidentally (as if!) Carrie will be touring the UK alongside her husband Danny Schmidt in May and June; hopefully Danny will have a sore throat the night they come to Newcastle so I can hear Carrie Elkin sing these and others in all her singular glory (only kidding Dan).

http://carrieelkin.com/

Released UK April 7th 2017

Keston Cobblers Club – ALMOST HOME

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Keston Cobblers Club
ALMOST HOME
Tricolour Records/Absolute

Harmonious and Folklicious Music That Stirs The Soul and Your Feet.

I’m walking a tightrope with this review; as I’m going against all my principals by listening to a ‘stream’ of the album and writing about it ‘live’…..not over several sessions spread over a couple of weeks.
The title track Almost Home gets proceeding off to a lovely start, as what sounds like three part harmonies shadow Matt Lowe’s warm and expressive voice. In the background an intricately plucked guitar and a tightly wrapped Folk orchestra provide a fog of acoustic auditory sensations.
The title of Track #2 Concord intrigued me straight away; as it is the name of the original town in Washington where I live. Thankfully this intricate Nu-Folk song isn’t about Pound Shops and drunken shenanigans in and around Wetherspoons on a Thursday afternoon; instead it’s a bittersweet, (with the emphasis more on sweet) love song sung around some clever banjo and piano before it all ends with a sweeping orchestral closure. Different, yet fascinating at the same time.
While occasionally nodding back to their forbears in the 1970’s The Keston Cobblers somehow still manage to plough their own musical furrow with songs like Demons and the inspired lo-fi of Walls.
While not normally my first choice of music to listen to; and I remind you this is a ‘first take’ review a couple of songs really stand out; Bicycles uses the siblings (Matt and sister Julia) voices like an extra instrument on a clever and nimble song that transcends the Folk genre. While On Your Own takes a massive leap to the left with some Soca guitar, funky bass-lines and a bit of a Electronica back-beat supporting two luscious voices singing and harmonising like Angels. The song ain’t half bad either.
Then there is All I Need, which closes the band’s third  full length album. Julia Lowe’s sensual voice lights up a tight Folk-Rock love song and made me go weak at the knees; and was the first song I played a second time…….only to find it was even better than the first!
After listening only once to ALMOST HOME I can hear why the Keston Cobblers Club are as popular as they are with the ‘young people’; being a lot more easy on the ear than their peers, the recently departed Bellowhead and Mumford and Sons.
In Julia and Matt Lowe they have two excellent vocalists and the band behind them; with their eclectic instruments are truly exceptional musicians; plus the production is exceptional somehow merging and melting so many disparate parts to create such a singular distinctive sound.

http://kestoncobblers.club/

Released March 31st 2017

EXCLUSIVE Simon Murphy – Empty Room (SINGLE)

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Simon Murphy
Empty Room (SINGLE)

It doesn’t seem 5 minutes ago when we first received Northern Irish singer-songwriter Simon Murphy’s debut album Let It Be; but it was actually 2015.
In the intervening years a lot has happened, including the birth of his (and his wife’s!) first son…plus he has been honing his talents in that Nashville Town, US of A.
The first song to come from those sessions is this beautiful song, Empty Room co-written by Simon and Sean Trainor and he has allowed us the EXCLUSIVE first play anywhere in the WORLD!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Eamon Friel – TAKEAWAY EP

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Eamon Friel
TAKEAWAY EP
Thran Records

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

Guy Clark – The Best of the Dualtone Years

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Guy Clark
The Best of the Dualtone Years
DUALTONE

A Consummate Collection Of A Master’s Latter Years.

Guy Clark? Where do I start? On a recommendation from the owner, a retrospective of his early recordings (priced £5.99) was one of the first Americana CD’s I ever bought in the long gone Goldrush Records, Perth Scotland and proved not to be just a gateway into his work, but that of Townes, Rodney, Nanci and Steve Earle….. and the rest is history.
By the time Guy signed for Dualtone Records in 2005 he was something of a ‘forgotten man’ and the industry probably presumed his best years were long gone.
As this retrospective of the Dualtone recordings proves…..how wrong they were!
This perfectly balanced Double Album opens with Rain in Durango, then saunters through Hemingway’s Whisky and My Favourite Picture of You……PHEW……find me a songwriter in the last 20 years who has wrote a better song than any of those three and I will be surprised….and remember this was meant to be the ‘tail end’ of Clark’s career!
Since his death in 2016 he has been mentioned a lot in the Press Releases I receive as an ‘inspiration’ and occasionally a ‘mentor’ for many much younger singer-songwriters; and you can hear and feel why that would be the way he couples simple observations with a beautiful way with words on songs like Out In The Parking Lot and Tornado Time in Texas to draw the listener in and keep them entranced.
Not a young man when he recorded Cornmeal Waltz but his voice sounds timeless and almost ethereal as he recalls the heady nights of his youth…….and I pretty much guess that there was a twinkle in his eye whenever he sang it.
For younger listeners there’s even the addition of four of his earlier/classic songs with The Cape, Dublin Blues, L. A. Freeway and the quirky Homegrown Tomatoes from his 2011 Songs & Stories album……which is well worth checking out for the stories alone.
As the vast majority of existing Guy Clark fans will already have the four albums these songs are culled from the ‘carrot’ for them is the inclusion of three previously unreleased songs.
I’m normally cautious about such things; but all three ‘demos’ fit in perfectly with what has gone before, with the first being the simple and haunting Just To Watch Maria Dance, then a co-write with Hal Ketchum The Last Hobo but Time, a collaboration with Marty Stuart shows that not all the good songs made it onto disc.
I could push a pin into the track list and tell you that song was my favourite; but I will point new readers to two songs that encapsulate everything I love in Guy Clark’s writing and singing.
As a master-craftsman who spent many long days making…..no creating handmade guitars, The Guitar is a love song that only a true musician could write and his attention to minutiae is astonishing; as is his own guitar playing.
The other is one of the ‘live recordings’; The Cape …….”A song about jumping off a garage” as Clark introduces it is…..well, just you go and find it and tell me you didn’t have tears in your eyes too.
Guy Clark will be sorely missed; but his legacy lives on in these songs and others; all of which will be studied and played for decades to come.

RELEASED March 3rd 2017

http://guyclark.com/

Tom Paxton EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

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Tom Paxton Interview
by Cara Gibney

“You’ve got me all wound up here. Let’s talk about puppies and kitty cats or something.” Tom Paxton was talking politics and it was becoming fiery.

For 50 years Paxton has been a key feature of the folk music scene; ever since Greenwich Village in the early 60s. He has released an astonishing 62 albums with songs that cover love, life, protest and many songs for children. The immense list of renowned artists who have recorded his songs includes Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Sandy Denny and Marianne Faithfull among many others. For all this he has been awarded numerous honours, including the 2005 BBC Folk Award for a Lifetime Achievement for Song Writing. He has supported striking miners, performed at civil rights rallies and voter registration drives, and with great aplomb he has sustained his role as the ‘musical fly in the ointment’ of the establishment.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that the American folk singer who wrote the impassioned “Buy a Gun for Your Son” in 1965 to discourage giving children toy guns to play with, has issues with present-day U.S. gun law. Or that the songwriter with a Pete Seeger endorsement on his website bio, thinks that the U.S. President “only cares about Donald Trump, the glory of Donald Trump…… and we’re in for a really rough ride.” Indeed, by the time we got to talk about the Dakota Access Pipeline, and how tragically relevant his 1970 classic “Whose Garden was This” still remains, he had started to talk of resistance. “… It’s only starting now” he told me. “But we’ll be hearing more about it.”

But this political fire wasn’t always in Paxton’s belly. Not even when he was at university. “I didn’t have any political conscience at all” he recalled. “I was studying drama. I was kind of apolitical actually.” It was when he joined the army around 1960 that everything changed, and not for the reasons you may be thinking. “I was mainly in training while I was there” he explained. “But the army took me up to the New York area and I would get into Greenwich Village where I began to make friends, and began to sing here and there … And then when I got out of the army I just stayed in New York and the rest ,as they say, is misery,” he laughed.

It was there that he started to hear Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger; he started to hear “their songs about social justice and it made sense to me … the Civil Rights Movement was just getting underway and once again it just seemed simple to me that segregation is just not right. My political consciousness began to develop once I got to New York.”

However, the music began years before that, with a Tonette (a plastic flute) that he played in school. Then at the age of 12 or so he picked up the trumpet, which he played until the age of 18. Simultaneously he discovered the ukulele at summer camp – “And I thought well how long has this been going on … Get me one of those.” Unfortunately it ended badly. “I had the ukulele until somebody sat on it and reduced it to sprinters.” Thankfully it didn’t end there. An aunt managed to “fish a guitar out of the back of her closet and said you might try this.” It worked, badly, but it worked. “It had God awful action on it. You needed pliers to put the strings down, but it was a start.” He moved onto a Gibson guitar later on, “and it’s been that way ever since.”

For many years Paxton has worked with multi-instrumentalist Fred Sokolow, who would accompany him on stage. Sokolow is equally at home with various styles of music, be it bluegrass or blues, but he may be better known as the author of instructional books/ DVDs for various instruments including guitar, lap steel, banjo, and Dobro. Sokolow has a son, Zac, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin with a band called The Americans who were interviewed on Rocking Magpie last summer.

Zac, too, has played with Tom Paxton. “How do you know Zac?” Paxton laughed when I mentioned him in the conversation. “Zac has substituted for his dad when his dad couldn’t play for me” he went on to explain. “He played instead and it was just wonderful. I love him and his old man. His stepmom is a great bass player. She plays upright bass full. Zac is a very fine musician and of course his dad is amazing.”

For Zac the feeling is reciprocal. “Tom has been has always been incredibly gracious with me, and first brought me on stage to play with him at a time when I was pretty young and hadn’t really played in front of an audience much at all. Despite a lot of my energy being spent on trying not to completely mess everything up, I remember feeling fully engaged in his songs and storytelling along with everyone else in the room.”

“Tom often tells a story about how someone in Ireland was trying to convince him that his song “The Last Thing on My Mind” was an old Irish folk song and that he hadn’t written it at all. I was in Ireland a little while ago at a pub in Tipperary where there was a session going on, and I heard someone sing that song in between some old traditional songs and fiddle tunes. Having the ability to write a song that doesn’t feel out of place in that context is something very unusual.”

“A couple years ago I played a few shows with Tom that he closed by singing a powerful version of “The Parting Glass”, as a dedication to the Clancy Brothers who were friends of his. That’s an old song that’s commonly sung at sessions in Ireland, but I had never heard it before he sang it. I started playing it with The Americans, and we eventually made a recording of it with T Bone Burnett.”

Paxton was in Glasgow for Celtic Connections when we talked over the phone. At that stage he only had a few more nights left playing to packed houses in his UK Tour with folk/old-time/swing musicians Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer. Interestingly they toured together before, back in 2003. “Kathy recorded all of them on Mini Disc” he recalled. “And when she listened to them she said it sounded so good she produced a CD out of it, which got a Grammy nomination.”

The UK tour was a launching pad for Paxton’s new album Boat In The Water, indeed three or four songs from the new record were included in their set. “It’s not a very political album” he explained when I asked if he was addressing any issues that had wound him up so much earlier in the conversation. However, the track that he released as a single at the end of last year – “Christmas in Shelter” carries that Paxton trademark nod to the haves and have nots, the acknowledgement of the unfair. A song to the homeless at the most poignant time of year sung with simple piano, a lived-in voice, and harmonies that break any sense of being alone.

“But it’s a whole different tune
When a soup kitchen spoon
Is dishing your dinner tonight”

“I really empathize with the homeless” he explained as I asked if homelessness was an issue that stood out to him, amidst all the other issues out there. He goes to a shelter on Thanksgiving Day every year to help with the dinner. “It’s only one day a year” he told me, “I wish I could do more.”

“I think we’ll see more people sleeping rough” he continued. “There is a kind of religious philosophy that has equated wealth with piety. The pious will make more money. It’s just incomprehensible to me and I’m certain that Jesus would say ‘are you kidding? Are you kidding? These are my people!’ I feel that Christianity is being mocked by the people with their ‘you don’t deserve anything because you’re poor. Obviously god doesn’t love you. If God loved you, you would be prosperous like we are.’ I start spluttering at some point …”

“I’m very fond of this album” it’s very dear to my heart. The one before had some [political] stuff on it, but the new one is for the love of the music.” Then he paused. “I guess I’ll be writing a little more politically now with this asshole in the White House.”

It looks like he’s going to be busy. When I asked how he felt about events over the past 12 months he told me – “It’s not the last year that worries me, it’s the next four … It’s really hard to overstate how bad I think this man Trump is. I mean I thought Nixon was bad but he was nothing, nothing, compared to this man … [Trump] has no shame and every word out of the man’s mouth is a lie. It’s just the way it is.”

But it was the Dakota Access Pipeline that brought him to the end of his rope. At that point we thought it best to change the subject altogether, on to something more positive. “You’ve got me all wound up here” he groaned. “Let’s talk about puppies and kitty cats or something.”

Cara Gibney

Zac and Fred Sokolow

Adam Sweet Take Your Time

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Adam Sweet
Take Your Time
NEO Music

Tons of Sobs From the New West (of England).

Only a couple of years ago my heart sank when I received a disc from a British singer-songwriter; but there’s something going on in the British; or particularly the English music scene at the moment that’s a very good thing and always very interesting.
This EP opens with the edgy Move On; something of a ‘talking Blues’ at first then seamlessly moving into territory more associated with John Martyn or the acoustic songs of Rory Gallagher.
Sweet’s picking on his Gibson Hummingbird somehow manages to be both intricate and ‘choppy’ at the same time; really capturing my attention.
This is neatly followed by the intriguing Albertine. A dark poisonous love song, that should be from the Mississippi Delta; not the English Riviera! At times on the chorus Sweet’s voice is anything but what his name suggests.
That ‘mood’ continues on track #3 New Friend; but the addition of a Hofner Resonator in the background really makes the song shimmer in the evening light.
Four of the five songs here are co-writes with Steve Black; leaving space for one cover song; and what a song he has chosen…..Jackson Browne’s These Days! I genuinely didn’t recognise it at first; such is Adam Sweet’s expressive voice and his artful guitar playing alongside his own simple production; I presumed it was from his very own pen; well….he does make it his own.
Adam’s debut was actually a full length Rockier album in 2014; but his writing and playing have evolved into the acoustic direction that this EP represents over the ensuing years; which brings us to the final track…..and my personal favourite here, Take Your Time.
Phew….what a compelling four minutes this song is; harking back to the Acoustic-Rock days of the early 70’s; this song conjures up memories of Free and even a couple of Bad Company songs the way Sweet delivers the words and music.
In the last couple of years I’ve enjoyed and reviewed albums by stalwarts of the British Country scene Alan West and Steve Black; and both albums featured co-writes by A Sweet. A Sweet is Adam Sweet, a much younger, better looking and longer haired singer-songwriter who has learnt his craft alongside Alan and Steve.
Take Your Time is his debut CD and fits in perfectly not just alongside their music; but the ever burgeoning British Blues scene and the singer-songwriter market currently dominated by the likes of Ed Sheeran and James Arthur too.

Released 6th January 2017

https://www.adamsweetmusic.com/

Pickxen – Picks ‘n Vittles.

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Pickxen
Picks ‘n Vittles
Self-Release

Raw Southern Country-Folk that Warms the Heart and Cools The Soul.

Some days I despair when I look at the pile of albums waiting to review and then other days I stumble on ‘rough diamonds’ like this and can’t wait to scream it’s delights to the world at large!
First of all, a friend who is a regular RMHQ follower suggested to John Monk from Pickxen that he contact me via the Twitter; which he did then followed it up with the CD and included a charming letter that made me want to listen to their music straight away.
Probably because Laura Monk’s delicious voice reminded me of the young Nanci Griffith I was immediately entranced with the simplicity of opening track Better in Tennessee and remained through to the end.
When the nifty banjo picking and Twangtastic guitar on track #2 7lb Rhyme filtered from the speakers I knew I was listening to something really special, and the bittersweet love song more than matches the music too.
Pickxen are a trio, Laura and John Monk alongside Michael Garvey and are based in and around Atlanta Georgia, and much to my personal delight have christened themselves, Pixie, Dixie and Micksy!
Laura’s warm and sensitive voice will melt even the coldest of hearts on Weight (Sic Transit Gloria Mundi) yet later, on Star she rocks the pants off another sad love song.
Baring in mind I’d never even heard of Pickxen 7 days ago, Picks n Vittles has the ability to sound like I’ve known the songs all my life; with none being any finer than Harmony which sounds like it was written to be the last song you would ever hear; and if it was it would be a great way to go.
The album close with the only cover version here; a live version of Wayfaring Stranger that showcases Laura’s marvellous voice and John’s fancy geetar pickin’ to full and glorious effect and fades out like a vinyl record before a (well known) ladies voice says “We’re closed!” It’s a cool way to close out a very interesting and, indeed ‘cool’ album.
With intricately complex guitar, banjo and bass throughout and some wonderful arrangements on songs like Poor Lucy’s Crooked Mile and Breath I can’t help but wonder why this group haven’t ventured North of the Mason-Dixon Line……they certainly deserve a wider audience.
As I said in the intro, Laura’s voice does remind me of a young Nanci Griffith at times, but at others Allison Krauss springs to mind and at least once I thought I could be listening to a young sibling of Emmylou Harris……but all along it was the smoky sultriness of Laura Monk. Funny that.

http://pickxen.com/

Released June 1st 2016

Steve Black – Right Here And Now

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Steve Black
Right Here And Now
NEO Music NEO116CD

Beautiful Folk Infused Country Music from British Troubadour.

Although we have two mutual friends, our paths have never crossed; probably because Singer-songwriter Steve Black is from London Town but now based in Devon at the other end of England from where I reside in the NE.
The loss is mine; judging by this delightful album.
Right Here and Now opens with quintessentially British tale of being caught in a traffic jam on a hot Friday afternoon; but the neat Country-Rock tune and Black’s world-weary voice defy national borders and will resonate with people all over the globe.
With a warm and expressive delivery Steve Black is an exceptional story teller with songs like Jacob and the title track Right Here Now I was reminded of singers like Don Williams, Guy Clark and even latter day Sam Baker; but on Highway of My Heart and Good Old Country (Girl) he digs deep into his Hank and George record collections for some sweet good time Country music.
For a man of a ‘certain age’ Steve Black certainly has a romantic streak running straight from his heart to his brain; with What Haven’t We Done For a While and the exquisite Dance With Me, which closes the disc both touching me in such a way I had to stop Mrs. Magpie mid-ironing to make her listen to Black’s heartfelt words.
That latter song was very close to being my ‘song of the day’ but instead I’ve gone for the deceptively complex Highway of My Heart; which brought a tear to my eyes and desperately tugged at my heartstrings and could only have been written by someone with many years of life’s various experiences under his belt to write a song this beautiful and emotional.
Steve Black’s long time/occasional sidekick Alan West has not only made a great job of the production but plays guitar throughout. The biggest surprise for me though, has been the feeling that this was a band effort, with Justin Johnson on drums, bassist Simon Goulding, Adam Sweet (Guitars etc), David Hartley on pedal-steel and the majestic fiddle, banjo and mandolin of Justin Moses all combine to bring the very best out of Steve’s delightful lyrics.

Released November 2016

http://www.steveblackmusic.com

The Ree-Vahs – Yee Ha With the Ree-Vahs!

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The Ree-Vahs
Yee Ha With the Ree-Vahs!
Self-Release

Love in a North Eastern Town Brought To Life In Song.

As I said last time, I’m not normally a lover of Folk Music; but when a band comes from my home town I’m prepared to give it more than a cursory listen, and I’m glad I did because The Ree-Vahs previous release Geordieland was a rare treat and came close to being in my 2014 Top 10.
Thankfully (for me) Andy Lee and band have carried on from where they left off; telling tales of a small once prosperous town in their local NW Durham flat dialect.
Sunshine which opens the album could be straight from the Bellowhead songbook; with a timeless ‘love through adversity’ story set to a classic Folky mix of acoustic guitars, fiddle, drums and possibly an accordion in the background.
A delightful piece of piano playing introduces the delightfully dark story behind Hundreds and Thousands. The third time I heard this song it genuinely stopped me in my tracks; as it was/is scarily close to my early relationship with the girl whom I was to marry; and like the narrator I’ve never understood why ‘with hundreds of souls in the village/you chose me.’ But also ‘Do I push you away/When I need you to stay/I never know what you’re thinking.’
If I could write songs I wish I could have written that.
While most of the songs here are about relationships, The Bouncer takes that theme to something of an extreme. A jealous man driven by ‘rage and jealousy/that’s not me’ knows she is going to leave him; and knows she should……but he tries to cling on. Lee’s voice sounds amazing as it comes near to breaking point more than once.
One song I love, but don’t fully understand is Spiderman. Using comic book superheroes as metaphors for ll of the characters inside his head, the singer knows his lifestyle will end in tears; but he can’t help himself……perhaps there’s a little bit of all of us here.
My favourite track; and it will surprise no one who knows me; is The Story of Us. To some extent a companion piece to Hundreds and Thousands; it’s a haunting love story of a couple told through the husband looking back on their life. The addition of cello, piano and guitars in the background make an ordinary Folk Tale quite extraordinary.
Another contender could easily have been Grandma’s Song. An epic narrative going from the couple meeting in 1933 and taking in being told he was killed in WW11 but arriving home ‘after 4 months dead’ and ‘hitting the heights in 75/a Triumph Herald in the drive’ then ‘recession took their house away/the wind blew hard as knives that day/the coldest winter of their lives/nineteen eighty five’.
Maudlin and beautiful hardly do justice to a song as well crafted and lovely as this.
Sadly domestic violence rears it’s ugly head in Black Eyed Susan; but Lee’s way with words and a melody couple to create a fabulous microcosm of a Small rural town that could be anywhere in the civilised world.
The Ree-Vahs and Andy Lee in particular have created a wonderful little album here and it would be a damn shame if it didn’t receive a world wide audience; so don’t let the Pitmatic dialect put you off, it’s not that different to listening to Texas drawl or a wonderfully rich Irish brogue.
#The only draw back is the town featured on the album cover is Stanley’s arch rival, Consett! Although I did take several tinctures in the Turf when I worked in Laws Stores in my younger days.

http://www.theree-vahs.co.uk/

Released November 2016