Chris Riley CESTRIAN

Chris Riley
Cestrian
Nice Mind Records

Sharp and Canny Folk Songs From the Traditional to Contemporary

Like many ‘local singer-songwriters’ around the globe, Chris Riley has to adopt many guises to make a living; and we’ve previously reviewed two of his previous diverse releases; the Irish influenced Folk trio The Dicey Rileys and his Rhythm & Blues combo The False Poets, but here he throws caution to the wind and goes completely solo!
The opening song Syracuse features a deceptively clever acoustic intro which is sure to catch your attention; and Riley’s warm and expressive voice; hewn from the Durham coalfield takes us on a delightful journey to love in a foreign field.
The next track, Pocket Full of Rhymes could have been an alternative album title; as it’s the cornerstone for most every other song here; a gently observational and autobiographical song about the life of a wandering troubadour.
Like all of his peers in the Folk World; be that traditionalists like Ralph McTell and Tom Paxton or romantics such as Jackson Browne or James Taylor; Chris Riley manages to find beauty and interest in many things around us all, the things most of us miss and he manages to make Mad Machine into a brilliant example of a songwriter’s art.
Here Chris explores the dark side of life too on Gaia’s Answer and When The Roses Bloom, with both making me sit quite still and really focus on the lyrics each time I’ve listened.
As a collection of songs created over many years, it’s nice to hear his various influences and styles filter through each and every song, from Traditional Folk (both British AND American) through a bit of Country and coming out with some experimental, nee Prog Folk at the end!
Love songs you ask? Of course – the brittle Autumn Colours will send a shiver down your spine, and When The Roses Bloom too, but don’t expect ‘Moon in June’ imagery.
Then there’s the instrumental Fistful of Quavers nodding to the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns as it does; as well as my wife’s favourite snack at the same time. But; there’s also the creepy and poetic The Dirge; which is almost cinematic in concept and the guitar work tips towards the work of both John Williams and Martin Carthy, if such a thing is possible.
Although both are absolutely lovely; I’m by-passing Kirsten’s Song and the charming Charlotte’s Tune in my quest for a Favourite Song, and debating between two tracks. The first, and this is quite sad for a Reviewer of Universal acclaim like what I is; I’ve been sorely tempted to go for the title track Cestrian; simply because of the title ‘Cestrian’ (i.e a dweller of Chester le Street, which is about 4 miles from where I live and a drinking area which I regularly frequented in my youth); but the bizarre, almost Prog-Folk instrumental actually misses out to Fortune All Around Me; a wonderful song which evoked memories of the teenage me discovering Ralph McTell and Richard Thompson and the dark and evocative delights of British Folk Music which, when done well; is as good as any other style of music in the world; and Chris Riley has written and produced a minor gem with this one.
Chris Riley is probably too old with a day job to boot, to tour the world bringing his songs to adoring audiences of all ages; but thankfully his music will always be available to download and also buy on Compact Disc (for the hipsters out there) and bring joy to you and yours in the comfort of your own homes for years to come.

Released July 3rd 2020
https://www.facebook.com/christopher.riley.165
https://www.nicemindrecords.com/
https://chrisriley1.bandcamp.com/


Pharis and Jason Romero BET ON LOVE

Pharis and Jason Romero
Bet On Love
Lula Records

Quality Canadian Folk Music That Transcends the Generations and Borders.

For some reason the name Jason Romero is familiar to me; but not the more ‘memorable’ Pharis; which is odd as I can’t find either in my extensive music library ……. who knows where or if I’ve come across him before.
Which brings me to the second album of majestic Folk Music from the couple.
Even without reading it; my highly tunes ears would have guessed that the Romero’s come from Canada; the quaintly named Horsefly in British Columbia where they own a bespoke banjo shop.
While this could easily be labelled ‘Americana’ in a record shop; but there is something quintessentially Canadian about the way Pharis sings; I’m no linguist; but Hometown Blues just sounds ‘Canadian’ to me ……. perhaps I should get out more. If you can put my semantics to one side, it’s a gorgeous Folk Song with the couple harmonising like Gram and Emmylou while Pharis takes the lead while Jason does things with his banjo that are still illegal in Alabama!
I’m no fan of the banjo, never have been; and in fact once coined the expression #BanjoFatigue; but when played really well it can be a fabulous instrument; and Jason Romero plays his various instruments better than most I’ve ever, ever heard.
The key to this album is not just Pharis Romero’s endearingly rich vocals; but her sensitive and captivating songwriting too. When I first played the album last week I wasn’t really ‘in the mood’ for Folk Music; but by the time I’d got to track #4 Right In The Garden I was engrossed.
In some ways Pharis reminds me of Joan Baez and Judy Collins, the way she inhabits her stories and occasionally leaves words hanging in the air; especially noticeable on New Day, We All Fall and Kind Girl, which all have a dreamy and timeless feel to them.
Even by Nu-Folk standards, BET ON LOVE is very easy on the ear; although Jason’s banjo and guitar playing can be extremely complex at times, with the instrumental New Caledonia being an album highlight; and his own weathered voice takes us into a whole new hemisphere when he sings lead on Roll On My Friend and the endearing love song World Stops Turning too.
Just when you think you can’t be surprised anymore, Pharis and Jason come at you like an early morning Spring mist when they harmonise on the charming Old Chatelaine.
For a Favourite Song it’s a coin toss between A Bit Old School and the more traditional New Day. Both certainly have their own charm and merits, but when placed side by side show the depth in not just Pharis’s songwriting but the way the couple can comfortably bridge the gap that links their 1960’s New Folk generation with today’s Nu-Folk with ease and grace; so I’m saying it’s a tie.
Don’t get pinned down with any particular thing I’ve said here; Pharis and Jason Romero aren’t particularly Old School or Nu-School, nor deeply rooted Canadian in their musical outlook ……… this is an album for Music Lovers of all persuasions that appreciate quality and class in any and every form.

Released 1st June 2020
http://www.pharisandjason.com/home
Order here http://www.pharisandjason.com/releases/bet-on-love




The Nautical Theme LOWS and HIGHS

The Nautical Theme
LOWS and HIGHS
Self-Release

Luscious Yet Brittle Folk-Americana

It’s spectacularly odd reviewing music at this time. To some degree ‘music’ is a frivolous accompaniment to our long days sitting waiting for the Corona Virus Plague to go away .
But; I also know that Musicians are in desperate need of sales to put food on their tables; so sadly, my reviews perhaps take on a new importance.
No pressure there, then.
Nearly three years ago I said “Duo Rock The Folk Out of Acoustic Music” about the Nautical Theme’s debut album, FLOAT and; not a lot has changed with this, their second album.
The punchy and perceptive Break My Fall, with Matt taking lead vocals and Tesia providing honeyed harmonies is a real attention grabber; and the perfect opener; especially as the mood takes a left turn next with the beautiful, yet melancholy Other Side which follows.
I can’t put my finger on it; but the production here somehow brings out something special and even ageless in these songs. As a ‘man of a certain age’ it’s all too easy to hear comparisons with the Laurel Canyon acts of yore; or more recently the Civil Wars, but it’s never that simple as both Tesia Mallory and Matt Shetler both have very distinctive voices in their own rite; and their richly detailed songs similarly follow a very contemporary path.
The couple neatly take turns as lead vocalist and it would take someone with sharper hearing than I, to say who is the better singer. For me they choose the songs to compliment the individual voice; which is both clever and professional.
As with the previous album, this is American Folk Music that Rocks, ever so slightly.
One More Left and the gentle piano led Not Really sure find Tesia at the front; but what you will remember most is the wonderful way their voices intertwine to create lovely and breathy music.
When Matt takes lead on Other Side and River there’s a definite warmth to the songs; which is partly his rich voice, but that ‘luscious production and mastering’ brings something really special out too.
For a Modern Folk album; which this is, most songs here are actually very commercial and hopefully destined for National Radio; especially Some Things Never Change and the title track LOWS and HIGHS, but I’m going elsewhere for my Favourite Song; Family Lie which sounds just as commercial; but listen closely and you will find a very personal story that far too many of us can connect with.
Tesia Mallory (vocals, keys) and Matt Shetler (vocals, guitar) aka The Nautical Theme have created a very special ‘sound’ that is quite unlike anyone else I can think of; and once this Plague is over and done with, will surely take a massive leap forward in their career.

Released March 20th 2020
https://thenauticaltheme.com/





Hoth Brothers WORKIN’ and DREAMIN’

Hoth Brothers
Workin’ & Dreamin’
Self-Release

Putting The Folk Back Into Country, But With a Razor Sharp Contemporary Edge

It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since we reviewed Bard Edrington V’s album ESPADIN and here he is again with a new and very different concept alongside fellow singer-songwriter, Boris McCutcheon (and honorary Brother Greg Williams and Hoth Sister Sarah Ferrell) .
Sadly; as is the case with many musicians Edrington and McCutcheon occasionally have to take on other work to supplement their income; and in the Winter of 2017 they found themselves pruning fruit tress; and as is their won’t the pair got to talking about music; and the kernel of this album was sown.
Both men completed their imminent solo albums and set about recording this in February.
Without spoiling it, it took me a couple of plays for the jaunty opening track Trees of Heaven to unravel and reveal a subversive Folk Anthem that sounds powerful in its own rite today; but I guess this sing-along Gospellish tune will take on a life of its own in the ensuing years; as not just America, but the whole damn world goes to Hell in a handcart!
While the production here is quite simple; it’s a deliberate ploy allowing these songs to breath and grow the more you listen to them/
While the Hoth Brothers bill themselves as a Folk Act; Whiskey and a Woodstove, Horses Are Made of Wind and Fault Line are 100% Country songs, with spines that combine Bluegrass, Hill Music and even a smidgen of Western Swing in the choruses.
Another thing is apparent all the way through the album, is that the Hoth Brothers know how to create a melody; something that is often missing on albums and songs by their contemporaries; with Chili Line and both being remarkable stories; but ones you can also dance too (if you have a good sense of rhythm).
While I’d prefer acts like this to be signed to $1 million contracts and selling albums by the cart load; it’s a good thing that isn’t always the case; as self-releasing albums allows Bard and Bruce to write and record songs like Wild Robby, Flint Hills and especially the delightful Bitter Frost without having some guy in a bad suit chomping on a Cuban cigar hanging over their shoulders asking “Where’s the single?”
While there’s an obvious ‘old-timey’ feel to most songs here; there’s also a real contemporary ‘edge’ to several sets of lyrics; none more so than January, written in the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s inauguration; and because of the way they treat the subject matter ……. this song is easily the RMHQ Favourite here. Check it out ASAP.
To paraphrase what they themselves say “It’s a long ride, 16 songs in all ……. but it really is a journey of truth and wonderment from start to finish.”

Released September 16th 2019
https://www.hothbrothers.com/workin-and-dreamin
https://www.bardedrington.com/
http://www.borismccutcheon.com/









Bruce Cockburn CROWING IGNITES

Bruce Cockburn
Crowing Ignites
True North Records

A Guitar Masterclass That Defies Description.

There are quite a few ‘instrumental albums’ in my collection; predominantly of the Jazz persuasion, but one or two Delta Blues ones for good measure (one has 17 harmonica tracks on it!) plus a couple of ‘Experimental’ type things from Mahavishnu Orchestra among others; but nothing in the Folk idiom.
I say ‘Folk’; but that moniker doesn’t do justice to what Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn has created here alongside a handful of friends.
The quality throughout Bruce Cockburn’s 35th album CROWING IGNITES (and second one of instrumentals!!) is of such a high standard I don’t want to just call them ‘tracks’ …… how about opuses?
The first of these ‘opuses’ is Bardo Rush and I was left spellbound the first time I played it; and again tonight Cockburn’s dazzling fretwork is almost peerless in the musical world I inhabit.
Okay; this was all recorded in a studio; with plenty of time for Take 2’s; but the playing on each and every track is absolutely flawless and, it has to be said exemplary too.
There are flourishes in Easter and The Groan* that will send a shiver down your spine as your lips break into a stupendous grin; such is the way Cockburn delivers a Masterclass in Acoustic Guitar playing.
Perhaps what has impressed me most here is that Bruce Cockburn manages to create music that could and should be in very different genres; but somehow manages to make the intriguing Jazz opuses Angels in the Half Light and The Mt. Lefroy Waltz sit comfortably alongside the delightful Ragtime ditty Sweetness & Light; a raw Blues tune like Blind Willie and the transcendental (?) Seven Daggers and make them all sound cohesive.
What a rare talent this man really is.
Selecting a single Favourite Track (or should that be opus?) is almost futile; but then again two tunes really do manage to stand out here.
April in Memphis is quite staggering in its very own rite; with Cockburn playing his guitar in an almost Classical fashion; and then I read that it was written on MLK Day 2019 and is dedicated to Dr. King; my heart skipped a beat.
The other is also a tad on the Classical side; but with a dramatic Celtic spine too, which combines to make Pibroch, The Wind In The Valley quite remarkable in many ways; which is why it’s probably taking the accolade.
For an album as beautiful as this, there were very few people involved in the making; all of whom; including Iona Cockburn; 7 year old daughter of Bruce who helped supply handclaps on The Groan; deserve a huge round of applause for creating such a magical and majestic body of work; that will certainly stand the test of time.

Released September 20th 2019
http://brucecockburn.com/

Cambridge Folk Festival 2019

Cambridge Folk Festival
1 – 4 August 2019

With a curated festival, which Cambridge now is, the attraction for many punters lies in the choices of the curator – in 2018, Rhiannon Giddens cast a strong Americana (for want of a better word) flavour over Cambridge. This year, Nick Mulvey has asserted a more eclectic world music influence, but there were still nuggets of Americana-ish joy to be had.

Opening Stage 2 on Thursday and Stage 1 later in the festival, Ben Caplan gave us a rowdy, carnie-esque set of tunes that threw up thoughts of a young, fiery Tom Waits. In a conversation with Ben he professed his admiration for TW and it was plain to see – there was more to Ben Caplan than mere homage though and his lively sets covered elements of folk and Gogol Bordello-ish gypsy music. Very entertaining – and he had yellow maracas on stage too…

The Rails also occupied a prime spot on Thursday. The new album “Cancel the Sun” sees them moving into rock star territory and this came over visually and sonically in their set, with a beefed up full band sound (“William Taylor” was quite anthemic in this context) and James Walbourne pulling out his best guitar god poses while spouse Kami Thompson was a great visual and musical foil. Having seen the Rails several times, it was clear that a great deal of preparation had gone into this set and it was rewarded with a rapturous response. Onwards and upwards – good luck to them.

Up against the 50th anniversary of Ralph McTell’s first Cambridge performance was Lucy Grubb in the Den. Her performance grew in confidence as her set progressed – references to Johnny Cash and a Kacey Musgraves cover (which actually paled in comparison with some of her own material) planted her firmly in a country camp. Possessing a melodic and narrative lyrical flare that was present in the tracks from her “Dear Walter” EP and other new songs, she displayed real commercial crossover potential.

Friday started with the Mojo interview in the Club Tent. Colin Irwin led Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico through an account of their musical background and history. Somewhat sparsely attended as the interview subjects hadn’t been announced in the programme, but most who were there were held in rapt attention by the guys’ musical war stories, internationalist world view and all-round niceness. Top blokes.

Kerri Watt was an early afternoon fixture on Stage 1. Visually striking in a vertical two shades of denim outfit (you had to be there) her voice – which was at times reminiscent of….Lulu….added a bit of character to a number of mid-paced songs. The addition of Will Pound on harmonica towards the end of the set added a bit more musical dynamism, but I’d like to hear full(er) band recordings before making a judgement.

Graham Nash was the penultimate act on the main stage on Friday and played a perfectly chosen and paced set. Lots of CSNY (and all their other incarnations) tracks and the hits like “Marrakesh Express” and “Love the One You’re With” were held back, after politically influenced earlier tracks like “Military Madness” and “Immigration Man” which found strong approval with the crowd. Ending on “Teach your Children well”, Nash was the perfect Cambridge “icon” act – and vocally and musically he still has fire in his belly.

Following that were Calexico and Iron & Wine – unusually for the final act at Cambridge, the crowd hung around (as opposed to dashing off for the last bus to the Coldham Common campsite). This was much more of a “proper” collaborative performance as opposed to the first time that they toured together where the set was one third Calexico, on third Iron & Wine and one third collaboration, or thereabouts. Most of the “Years to burn” album was played along with a cover of the Bunnymen’s “Bring on the Dancing Horses”. Musically, the atmospheric soundscapes of the set brought the night to a relaxed end – for those familiar with the material, it was a subtle delight of a performance, but went somewhat against the Cambridge tradition of a night ending rabble-rousing set.

If the previous night ended on a more gentle note, that certainly couldn’t be levelled at Rob Heron and the Teapad Orchestra who – for me – put on one of the top performances of the festival first thing on Saturday on the main stage. While they have new material yet unreleased, they very wisely played a tried and trusted set of numbers like “Beaujolais”, “Life is a drag”, “Cats and Chickens” and High Speed train”. Add to that the band’s dry humour, charisma and enthusiasm and it was a recipe to melt the hearts of the most pure, died in the wool folkie. At the start of their set, the audience were just drifting into the tent. At the end, the place was rammed and they were going mad. Someone put RH & TTO on prime-time TV now and make them famous.

Often good things can be found on the smaller stages and I got a tip-off that The Marriage, playing in the Den, were worth checking out. I knew of Dave Burns through his role in ahab and Orphan Colours, but his duo with Kirsten Adamson (sister of Callum, ex-ahab and daughter of Stuart of Big Country) had criminally bypassed me. Singing songs about getting dumped rarely sounded so good. Dave’s guitar playing, not usually brought to the fore in Orphan Colours was on show here and very impressive it is too. Kirsten’s characterful voice was a real revelation, both as a lead and harmony instrument – shades of Emmylou and Gram and the Civil Wars (if they came from Edinburgh and London) are evoked by the duo. The pair hadn’t played for a year as Kirsten has had a baby, but the number of new songs performed and the stage talk of more to come was very welcome. Definitely the most pleasant surprise of the festival.

Later that same night was the much awaited return of Lucinda Williams to the Cambridge stage that she’d graced six years earlier (there was some trepidation amongst the time served journos in the pit at memories of unpleasantness surrounding that previous show) but fortunately all was well on this occasion. On this tour Lucinda has been playing all of “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” but festival time constraints meant that she mixed highlights of the album into the set, along with other songs like “Something about what happens when we talk” and “West Memphis” as well as covers of “Can’t let go” by Randy Weeks and Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor”. A ten song set and three encores (An a capella “Faith and Grace”/”Get right with God”/”Foolishness”) exorcised fully the demons of her previous visit and brought her several more new fans.

Outside of the more obviously Americana type artists, Gruff Rhys performed a set that was part performance art to the bemusement of the folkier purists. Walking on with a sign that said “Applause” and another which said “Louder” – and then another that said “Prolonged applause” was not unexpected (yet still surprising) from the former Super Furry Animals man. Talisk, the Scottish trio had the final Saturday slot and played with a ferocious energy that scorched those hardy souls still standing from the day’s heat. Concertina player Mohsen Amini has to be seen to be believed in the energy of his performance – the perfect festival rabble-rousing band. Jose Gonzalez has come to wider attention through the use of his cover of the song “Heartbeats” in a TV ad and despite most of the audience seemingly only familiar with that song, he played a gentle set that went down well on a warm afternoon.

2020? Why not…

Courtesy Nick Barber

It should go without saying; but ………. ALL PHOTOS ARE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT LAWS. If you want to download/use any of Nick’s photos get in touch and we will organise ‘something’.

Full Set https://nickbarber.zenfolio.com/f403426412

Ben Caplan – https://photos.app.goo.gl/HUZd3AMFFm2cCfku8
The Rails – https://photos.app.goo.gl/1Cgko9esqAA3MkEe7
Lucy Grubb – https://photos.app.goo.gl/RN9Tb45msad9T8Fw9
Kerri Watt – https://photos.app.goo.gl/vTRM4NdzoySqGzNd7
Graham Nash – https://photos.app.goo.gl/q4gr2rEBRhRDQk1T8
Calexico + Iron & Wine – https://photos.app.goo.gl/JSy9znT8p8KD9Ui68
Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra – https://photos.app.goo.gl/1ZjSHsMmGVNpHta19
The Marriage – https://photos.app.goo.gl/EKLhtqPGESXT9tMf9
Lucinda Williams – https://photos.app.goo.gl/Ctu8YkSfgJ6p9EHJ8
Gruff Rhys – https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZtmvmFo7EwzWhuqb7
Talisk – https://photos.app.goo.gl/oerWDsHFpoJtAgpg6
Jose Gonzalez – https://photos.app.goo.gl/LpC9XZNvX4k2sy8M6

Various Festival shots – https://photos.app.goo.gl/xcjbJMyvX7rfaUmz9

Terry Robb CONFESSIN’ MY DUES

Terry Robb
Confessin’ My Dues
NiaSounds

Acoustic Blues Don’t Get Much Finer Than This!

I kept picking this album up and putting it down again; not because I didn’t think I’d like it ….. quite the opposite actually; I just needed to be in the right place at the right time, and most importantly the right frame of mind to do it justice, as this type of Blues needs to be cherished, admired and savoured like a fine wine.
Even though I’d not heard of Terry Robb before, it comes as no surprise to find this is his 15th album ….. yes ……FIFTEENTH!
Right from the first two instrumental tracks here Butch Holler Stomp and Still On 101 Terry Robb shows what not just an accomplished Blues guitarist he is; but with his majestic flourishes quite experimental too without ever deviating from the path carved out by Robert Johnson nearly 100 years ago. Damn right this is The Blues, with a capital T and B.
By track #3 How a Free Man Feels, Robb actually sings; and wowza what a voice he has too; clean and crystal clear which is perfect for the way he delivers this age old story.
While only ever playing an acoustic or Resonator and occasionally supported by a stand-up bass and drums, Robb can kick up quite a storm with his variant on Country Blues, with the title track Confessin’ My Dues and Keep Your Judgement both being the type of song that will fill the dancefloor at a dive bar or Honky-Tonk; and on Three Times The Blues aficionados of all persuasions will sit open mouthed at his mastery of the wooden instrument.
I’ve heard a lot of guitarists ‘like’ Terry Robb, from Stefan Grossman through to Joe Bonamassa but very few times have I been as awestruck as I was the first time I heard Death of Blind Arthur, as Robb flits between the Blues, Jazz and Classical in the blink of an eye.
Two entirely different songs tie for the title of RMHQ Favourite track; Heart Made of Steel is an acoustic trio sounding as ‘heavy’ as Cream ever managed with a lorry load of Marshall amps; and the track that precedes it, It Might Get Sweaty sounds like that’s exactly how these three cats felt in the studio at the end of the recording session; and it still leaves plenty of room for expansion when played live!
It’s when I discover acts like Terry Robb and records like this I despair when the Awards Season comes along and the ‘experts opinion’ of what constitutes The Blues is 100 miles apart from my own interpretation; but I can’t do any more than advise you to invest your hard earned money in this album to discover what Blues Music can and does sound like in 2019.

Released May 31st 2019
https://www.terryrobb.com/home3
https://musicmillennium.com/UPC/859730725024/Terry-Robb_Confessin39-My-Dues

Alvarez Theory SELF-TITLED

Alvarez Theory
Alvarez Theory
Self-Release

Dark, Moody and Eloquent Americana-Folk Crossover.

With so much music available these days for artistes to draw from, it’s no surprise that that the genre lines become ever more blurred.
In days of yore, Londoners Alvarez Theory would have been classed as ‘Folk Rock,’ albeit with the emphasis on ‘Folk;’ but with the judicial use of a banjo several songs crossover into what now is deemed ‘Americana’; which is also a lot more ‘hip’ in radio and magazine circles I would guess.
There’s an almost Canadian Gothic feel to opening track By The River, as Diana-Maria Diehl summons up her demons to to exorcise a love affair gone wrong; and the rest of the quintet play their respective instruments with quietly restrained anger; and a whole lot of passion too.
For a group from London Town, there’s a very North American feel to most of their songs; and when I say ‘North American’ I mean music made in the states either side of the Border that straddles USA and Canada, with the clear, cool and often rawness I associate with that area unfolding like a butterfly from a cocoon on Last of a String of Tempests and Bring Her Back to Life too.
The imagery that is evoked on songs like the desolately beautiful House That Stood The Storm and Big City, Empty certainly belay the fact that these songwriters life in London; and not some windswept hilltop cabin in the bleak midwinter.
Even though this is quite a simple album, of sorts; there’s a lot going on behind the words that hints at a group of probably classically trained musicians who are now performing music that they love and adore; which brings me to the two songs vying for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song; 1949 is one of those songs that sounds so intense you can hear a pin drop 50 yards away; but it still won’t break your concentration and the other, Mary McKinley is certainly a song I’d have presumed was from Canada or perhaps rural Ireland and features some heart-stopping harmonies and steel guitar, that juxtapose a song of majestic proportions; so the title goes to Mary McKinley!
It’s never made clear what, exactly an ‘Alvarez Theory’ is; but it’s fair to say that this darkly charismatic album of exquisitely constructed, performed and sung stories is well worth the investment if you have the time to immerse yourself in the Alvarez Theory’s musical world.

Released May 24th 2019
https://www.thealvareztheory.co.uk/

Izzy Heltai ONLY YESTERDAY (EP)

Izzy Heltai 
Only Yesterday (EP)
Self-Release

Beautifully Articulate Cross-Generational Folk Music.

I don’t know much about Izzy Heltai apart from he comes from Northampton in Massachusetts and has a voice that can best be described as ‘interesting’; but it’s also quite perfect for his spell-binding modern Folk Songs.
There are only four songs here; but each one is a perfectly formed parcel of intense loveliness in its very own rite.
I regularly say that it’s a case of ‘Right time/right place’ for music to have an effect on you; and as I sit here tired and weary on a sunny Good Friday morning, contemplating life, love and the Universe as it’s my birthday tomorrow; Friday and a one the younger me could never have imagined me reaching Izzy Heltai has been a wonderful companion in the last couple of hours.
The first song; and current single Marching Song is a very powerful and deeply personal statement from this young man; whose frazzled voice somehow struggles to soar and hit the high notes….. but manages every time. For a track that has a guitar piano, bass and trumpet (possibly a cornet?) alongside a big voice; there’s lots of space there two for the listener to contemplate on Heltai’s heart rending story of broken love.
Then on Stuck in Stone the judicial use of echo gives a sad tale enough pathos to break even the hardest of hearts with consummate ease; and that’s taking nothing away from the singer’s rather muscular love story.
I absolutely adore his use of metaphor in the final track Mountain; comparing such a massive land mass to the mistakes he’s made in his relationship; and if you don’t quite get the message…… that cello and trumpet will make you go weak at the knees anyway.
Then there’s my Favourite Song by a country mile; Common Sense. To the casual listener a simple Folk Song with a bit of a back story……. but you couldn’t be further from the truth! Listen….. actually listen to Heltai’s compelling words and the way the melody and instruments creatively shadow and shroud his dark story like a velvet cloak. This is the sound of a songwriter ‘finding his true muse’ and the world is a better place for this song being there.
In four short songs Izzy Heltai has the capability of crossing the musical generation gap with articulate ease in a way I’ve not heard for many a long year. He very much already has his own distinctive ‘sound’; but one that can and will appeal to fans of acts as diverse as Leonard Cohen, Ed Sheeran, John Prine, Nanci Griffiths and Gretchen Peters too. #Fact.

Released April 19th 2019
http://www.izzyheltai.com/home

https://izzyheltai.bandcamp.com/album/only-yesterday

Ben Bedford THE HERMIT’S SPYGLASS

Ben Bedford
The Hermit’s Spyglass
Cavalier Recordings

Idiosyncratic Guitar and Folk Songs That Paint Vivid Pictures In Your Head.

It would be all too easy for me to skip past this album as I am being inundated with Review albums from the great and the good in the musical world; as even though he’s a Kerrville New Folk Winner Ben Bedford is highly unlikely to headline Coachella or Glastonbury and is even less likely to win a Grammy; but even on one cursory, background listen you instantly sense you are in the presence of a very special singer-songwriter indeed.
With hindsight I think it’s Bedford’s idiosyncratic guitar playing that really caught my attention last week; but then again his cracked and worn voice; from years as a lonely troubadour I’m sure is the type that only a Mother or me could love too.
Then of course there are Ben Bedford’s songs; starting with Morning Rise a Folk Song from the Tom Paxton end of the spectrum, and so simple yet prophetic I found myself taking a deep breath so as not to miss a word or note.
For one man, a guitar and no fancy post-production wizardry Ben Bedford surely can capture your attention with the beautiful and melancholic vivid vivid pictures he paints in your head with the dark Little Falcon and Coyotes as well as the introspective Morning Conversations too; which is quite some achievement.
Back to Bedford’s guitar playing; for someone who isn’t Richard Thompson or indeed Bert Jansch on the beautiful instrumentals Thunderstorm and Quiet on the Green Hill he manages to captivate and intrigue without ever singing a word.
I’m trickily undecided regarding my choice of Favourite Song here as I rather like Moon and March End a whole lot, but it is just edged out by Morning Coffee; another very simple idea and concept but one that I, you and everyone around us will associate with; so that’s the one.
Is this Americana? I guess so as Ben Bedford is American and these are American stories; albeit with more than a cursory nod in the direction of some of the 1960’s British Folk Singers that were inspired by the likes of Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs and later Guy Clark.
Expect to see Ben Bedford in a Coffee House, pub backroom near you or perhaps even a tent at Glastonbury, go check him out if you can…… you won’t be disappointed.

Released UK March 29th 2019
http://www.benbedford.com/