John Andrews JOHNNY WAS E.P

johnny andrews

John Andrews

Windswept and Interesting Tales From A Troubled Heart.

I’m beginning to wonder if there is anyone left in Northern Ireland who isn’t actually a working musician?
As you will know I have a soft spot for this beautiful part of the United Kingdom and the people in it and over the last seven or so years I don’t think I’ve heard a recording from it’s inhabitants that I haven’t liked……and that even includes a couple of ‘finger in the ear’ folk albums.
Here we have John Andrews and the not so rushed follow up to his 2014 debut release.
With so much new music to listen to I have to judge albums by the first track; and WHAM!!! did Pray capture my attention from the get go.
The first minute or so is taken up with a fire and brimstone preacher bellowing that we are all going to Hell! Then Andrews comes into the action with a punchy Rockabilly lick that follows in a similar; if a lot less angry path…..and the result is a doozy, especially as our Preacher keeps butting in and out.
The next song, Don’t Let Me Fade Away slows things down a heck of a lot with Andrews singing and playing an acoustic in the finest singer-songwriter tradition. as some soft drumming and intricate cymbal playing add to the tension of a deep and meaningful tale of lost love.
Even with only five songs to judge him by on this EP; it’s quite easy to hear what a clever and thoughtful songwriter Andrew is; with the nod to Alt. Country Wolves and his own Love Sick Blues not just showcasing his narrative skills; but also his wonderfully warm and expressive vocals too.
Then there is the stand out track Love Letter which is easily my Favourite Song here. As is often the case with artists from this tiny corner of Ireland, Andrews is obliged by a lifetime playing pubs and clubs to play every genre of music known to man in his quest to make a living; and this charming, yet quite dark tale blends modern folk with a touch of Alt. Country, a snippet of latter day Indie with a big dollop of West Coast swagger too, and the result sounds not a million miles away from one of my favourite Celtic bands of all time, the Waterboys and that is a very good thing indeed.
I doubt John Andrews will ever headline Glastonbury or Lollapalooza but that’s not always the point, is it? He has talent in abundance and ticks a lot of boxes on these five songs and deserves a much wider audience than he is currently getting in his home country.
Try it…..and buy it; you won’t regret it.

Released August 3rd 2018


Hadley McCall Thackston Self-Titled (Album)

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Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records

Captivating Country Folk Songs For a Fine Summer’s Evening.

Like many self-appointed arbiters of good taste; or music reviewers (you decide) it’s not uncommon for a review to followed by numerous e-mails stating “If you like that; you will like us…..can I send a copy of our latest release?”
Me being the musical tart that I am I rarely say “no”; so when this was offered after our latest Jeremy Nail missive I was intrigued; as he’s not an obvious act to compare yourself too; and songstress Hadley McCall Thackston from Decatur, Georgia sounds nowt like him at all; yet I think I’d love to see the pair performing together one evening.
“Pray tell, Why is that”? You ask.
The fragile opening song Butterfly strangely enough made me think of those early Nanci Griffith LP’s I still cherish. There is something delightfully innocent in the way Hadley recounts an almost poetic tale over a winsome fiddle, mandolin and acoustic guitar.
I was instantly hooked.
Then Ms Thackston cranks up the volume to Four on the snappy Ellipsis which follows; and even during that magical first play last week I was ensnared in the silken web this young lady weaves with her stories.
The accompanying Press Release describes her music as Porch to Porch music; and I can see why as the imagery this talented young woman conjures up combines the smells and sounds of not just Georgia but South Carolina where she now lives too; in the way you feel the evening heat on your shoulders as the sun comes down as family sit around sipping cool drinks in the delightful Change and later on Ghost, as well as plenty of others.
Don’t be deceived though; this isn’t a ‘simple album’ at all; the production may make the songs sound that way; but there’s a whole lot of majestic playing behind Hadley as she delivers the haunting Redbird and Devil Or Angel, which has to heard to be believed. Trust me!
It appears that Hadley is a very shy person by nature; and was originally cajoled into putting one of her songs onto Facebook; so it would be a huge disappointment if I was never to witness her singing the gorgeous Last Mountain Waltz or especially Somehow played live in an intimate setting.
Choosing a ‘Favourite’ here is as hard as ever with the ‘bonus track’ Slow Burn certainly being a contender but I’m going for the fiery Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush) which has a delightful danceable beat to it and some fascinating lyrics on a quirky love song.
There’s a whole lot to like here from a 25 year old on her debut album; as she’s a fine storyteller with a pearlescent yet slightly worn around the edges voice……again; not unlike a young Nanci Griffith; but I can easily see her appealing to the hipsters who love Fleet Foxes, First Aid Kit and even Ed Sheeran; as well as our friend Jeremy Nail of course.

Released 15th June 2018


Holly Rees SLOW DOWN E.P


Holly Rees

Four Exhilarating, Gritty and Honest Songs From Young Durham Lass.

I actually missed the push on Holly Rees’ single Magpie because we were gallivanting in NYC and it’s actually haunted me ever since; mostly because she’s a local lass from the Durham Dales; but also because it’s a cracking slice of simple yet very articulate Folk that Rocks!
Thankfully I can right that wrong today as it’s the opening track on her new EP. For a simple Acoustic song, producer Matt Dunbar and this delightful young lady certainly create a ‘big noise’ and a noise that deserves to be heard btw.
Sometimes it’s not easy to differentiate between Folk Music and what I prefer to refer as ‘Singer-Songwriters’; and I tend to favour the latter so that’s how I will describe Holly’s approach to her songwriting and singing; it has one foot in the past with Impossible Rules which sounds a bit like singers such as Judie Tzuke or Joan Armatrading who I would see on OGWT and then rush out and buy their latest LPs from Woolworths on Saturday afternoon in the 1970’s; but the sparkling Missing Out will most certainly appeal to fans of Heidi Talbot and Elie Goulding and the current glut of gritty and feisty young women who are headlining on stages at Festivals and Universities across the length and breadth of the UK.
With only four songs to choose from and each with it’s own golden merits; selecting a Favourite Song hasn’t been easy; but with a deep breath and my fingers crossed I’m going for track #2 In My Arms; a darkly beautiful, deeply personal bittersweet love song that felt like a punch to the heart when I first heard it.
Who knows what the future holds for Holly Rees; with a little bit of luck and a couple of plays on Radio 6, she most certainly has the voice and songs to move up the ladder of success with ease; and she most certainly deserves it.

Released August 10th 2018



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Jason McNiff
At The Helm Records

A Starkly Beautiful Collection of Stories From English Songwriting Troubadour.

In my less lucid moments I think I pretty much have my finger on the pulse of British Acoustic and Americana style music; and then along comes singer-songwriter and all around troubadour Jason McNiff who has released 5 previous albums including a best selling double retrospective; and I’ve never heard of him.
Shame on me.
This ‘stripped back’ album; and all there ever is is McNiff’s breathy vocals, expertly strummed guitar occasional harmonica with no show-boating to divert your attention from his stunning and articulate songs.
The first thing you hear is the title track Joy and Independence, which uses those words as the Christian names of the young couple in the bittersweet story of carefree love across one glorious year long adventure; 25 years ago.
Is there a happy ending? You didn’t think I would tell you; did you?
Now I’ve played this album 6 or 7 times, I’m truly impressed by McNiff’s storytelling and way with words and imagery which conjures up memories of the first time I heard the likes of Townes, Guy and more importantly Tom Paxton all those years ago.
While McNiff’s presentation style is quite laid back; just like his fore-bearers your ears will keep pricking up as stories unfold; with Dream Of a Highway and Wind of Zaragoza both sounding like any of those three songwriters would have been proud to have been written by them.
With Ed Sheeran filling stadiums across the world, I hope that the current wind of change in Folk Music means that songs like the darkly beautiful Italy and the song for songwriters everywhere, And The Sun Comes Up On My Dreams can find the far reaching audience that they deserve; but the cream always rises to the to anyway, doesn’t it?
When it comes to choosing a ‘Favourite Track’ for you, I’m actually spoilt for choice with the spoken intro to the delightful Midnight Shift initially catching my ear, then the re-working of Stuck In The Past proves to be another wonderful example of a songwriter writing from personal experience; but I’m going for a left of centre choice again with Amanda.
It’s an odd and very brave subject for someone to write about; but this tragic tale of Amanda Knox is the type of song my heroes in the 60’s made careers from; and it’s fair to say Jason McNiff treads very cautiously over the broken glass but comes out with a dramatic yet sad song that will make you ‘think,’ smile and possibly even shed a tear as it slowly unfolds and unwinds.
Tucked away in the middle is Thoughts; a delightful duet with Lily Ramona and it may be the one commercial song here that just might find its way onto radio and therefore draw attention to the rest of this starkly beautiful album.

Released July 27th 2018


Tom Blackwell MEMPHIS Vol 1.

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Tom Blackwell

Simple, Sensational and Timeless Folk Songs From a Northern Poet-Singer

While Tom Blackwell is a friend of a friend of mine I’d not heard of him prior to last weekend’s SummerTyne Festival; and even then I managed to miss his groundbreaking set on Saturday afternoon!
When I met up with him later in the day after spotting him watching; and visibly enjoying several other acts during the afternoon (which is a rarity for musicians in my opinion) there was a delightful innocence in the way he handled a couple of newly adoring fans which appealed to me. When we chatted I also loved his approach to music and recording; although releasing this album as a cassette rather than one of those new fangled Compact Discs means his new found fans may not get the access to his work that he deserves. (*thankfully he is now releasing it as a download.)
Any-hoot; onto the music itself.
As I’d hoped and expected opening track The Blood Runs Cold On The Ground, finds Tom with just an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a crystal clear production to accompany his deeply thoughtful and mesmeric words; and I can now vouch for why that couple would make the effort to speak adoringly to the young singer-songwriter; after hearing only one single song.
Yet there’s actually another nine songs to get through and each is as striking in its own rite as that first one.
What I’ve come to love about this album is not just Blackwell’s warm and raspy voice, but the ‘easy on the ear’ intensity he provides on songs like Hark Back The Hounds, The Hollow Trophy and the staggering Fforde Capel Canticle, which in theory is something I should really dislike but found myself tipping an ear to the speakers so as not to miss a word or note.
Which brings me to Tom’s guitar playing. Okay he’s no Clapton or Hendrix but he falls into the John Martyn or Guy Clark category where his playing sounds so very simple as he accompanies himself in song but is actually acutely intricate when you listen carefully; and the inclusion of the instrumental God’s Own Land (prelude) is a true joy to behold.
There is something really special and personal in the way Tom writes and delivers his songs; with several (Only Now Can You Run? Sorrow 1?) using subjects that will make the listener think, “Aha; so it’s not just me!” Which is quite a special talent that very few can achieve with such ease.
Choosing a Favourite Song has proved plenty difficult, I can tell you, as this is an old fashioned Long Player that needs to be listened to in one sitting with no distractions; but I will select God’s Own Land which is a quintessential modern English Folk Song that defies time and borders; and deserves to be heard across the whole wide world.
To some degree singer-songwriters, or Folk Singers if you will, have never gone out of fashion in my 50 years as a music fan, starting with Bob Dylan in the 1960’s and ending up today with Ed Sheeran; yet the vast majority are ordinary to say the least; with only a handful sticking in the collective memory…….the Merseyside poet-singer Tom Blackwell will surely become one of the latter category sooner rather than later.

Released July 23rd 2018

Scott Matthews – The Great Untold

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Scott Matthews
The Great Untold
Shedio Records

Considerate, warm, and full of grace.

The Great Untold is the sixth studio album from the English singer-songwriter Scott Matthews, which finds him once again recording at home (and the occasional church) which enables him to get an intimate and personal document of this collection of modern folk hymns.
With a clean, clear falsetto voice, along with with impeccable finger-picking, comparisons to Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake are not out of place, but I also hear quite a bit of John Martyn and even a touch of Paul Simon, and dare I say, Priscilla Ahn, in Matthews songs too, which aren’t sparse as much as they’re spared the weight of complications. Easy, yet not empty, there’s a dreamy cathedral quality to the music. Not religious, per se, but spiritual, sanctified, as if the subject matter is too close and personal for Matthews that he won’t take chances with. Why clutter up something that means the world to you?
“You’ll be mother’s precious gold, And I’ll see new reasons through your eyes,”
he states on the title track, obviously a paean to a newborn child, but it could also be about these ten songs, reverent as he is towards them.
There’s an evenness throughout this album too, but it’s purposeful. These are delicate elegies and descants, some thoughtful, others darker and more potent, full of depth and lyrical poetry. Take the gossamer-like musical shifts throughout “Lawless Stars” which give it a graceful integrity, the fun bounce of “Silence,” betraying its meditative subject matter. “Cinnamon” is warm sensuousness wrapped in softly picked electric guitar notes and lush synths, while the folksy harmonica and pedal steel of “Chapters” end the album in an upbeat, thoughtful mood.
This is a considerate and reflective album full of affirmations and grace, which should warm any heart.

Guest reviewer Roy Peak

Released April 27th 2018

Annie Keating – Ghost of the Untraveled Road

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Annie Keating
Ghost of the Untraveled Road
8th Street Studios

Difficult to Express Emotions Somewhere Between Regret and Resolve.

I like it when artists use the EP format to do something different, perhaps release a few songs that really don’t fit on any oth album they have, but still fit together, the misfit songs, maybe even one that’s out of character for the artist. After The Graceless Age, John Murry released Califorlornia, an EP with a few sensitive songs mixed in with “The Murder of Dylan Hartsfeld” which is scary/devastating in a way similar to Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop.” Murry’s song wouldn’t have worked on the album that came before or after but on an EP it somehow made sense.
At times it’s also refreshing to just hear an EP from an artist rather than an entire album. Nowadays albums are, sadly, becoming passé, as no one hardly buys CDs anymore and vinyl is such a niche market, and many albums are becoming just filler. When an artist chooses to just release a single, is one song enough for a listener to make a decision on whether there is something musical worth pursuing? Practically anyone can record at least one good song, but what about three or four? Remember acts like Jesus Jones, Simple Minds, or Joan Osborne? One worthwhile song was pretty much all they had.
Now, after seven full albums, we have Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Annie Keating releasing Ghost of the Untraveled Road, a five-song EP of love songs, longing, memories, and dreamy what-ifs. At times Keating’s voice reminds me of a time-worn and breathier Tanya Donnelly, at others a huskier and softer-voiced Nanci Griffith. Whichever, Keating makes the most of her voice with wry melodies over top understated acoustic guitar.
Keating isn’t blazing new trails into uncharted territory here, but that’s okay, as this is country-folk, not Sgt. Peppers. Mandolin, fiddle, and pedal steel all add support to these tunes, weaving in and out from one another to form a fine netting around Keating’s guitar and voice. Personally I feel that perhaps a little more variation on the instrumentation from one song to the next might have made things a bit more interesting, but I get the impression this EP is meant to be representative of Keating’s live shows. We’re getting the living room treatment here, which is fine.The title song, Ghost of the Untraveled Road, sets the pace here with a song about wondering what the past may have been like if only she’d done things a bit different:

“Should I think of you fondly, or not much at all?/Shall I cherish confessions of bury them all?”

But Keating still sees a glimmer of fond hope here, a wish that perhaps this dream can still be realized. “Sting of Hindsight” utilizes a fun, bouncy melody and carries the theme of longing for the past even further. “Forever Loved” is a well meant toe-tapper, and “Kindness of Strangers” is purposely languid, but it’s the closing song, “Forget My Name” which hits me as the best song here, mainly because of its bite. There’s real pain here, you can hear it in the crack in Keating’s voice from the very first line, the longing referenced in the earlier songs now replaced by a difficult to express emotion somewhere between regret and resolve. A darker tone to the pedal steel and some knife thrusts from the guitar help drive this tune home—if home is a dark and possibly dead end street. I’m hoping Keating goes for more of this next time, as this one stands out from the other songs on this EP, fine as they are.

Review courtesy the legendary Mr Roy Peak.

Released 25th May 2018

Nautical Theme FLOAT

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Nautical Theme

Duo Rock The Folk Out of Acoustic Music.

It’s been a busy few weeks inside and outside RMHQ so this new release from Tesia Mallory and Matt Shetler aka Nautical Theme from Dayton Ohio has sat inside the computer metaphorically ‘gathering dust’ until last Monday when I heard a track on Leader’s American Pie radio show and thought “that’s cool….I wonder who they are?” Only to realise the following day I already had the album…..DOH!
For a male/female duo they sure make a lot of noise on opening track Couldn’t Have Said; not White Stripes ‘noisy’ just powerful and loud; with Matt singing from the darkest recesses of his his lungs while Tesia provides cool tinkling on the piano and gorgeous harmonies.
Matt stays at the mic on the next song One Long Day and Night; a breathy and almost breathless road-trip of emotion and perhaps unrequited passion? A really punchy production matches the lyrics too, by the way.
Now I’ve mentioned them I can’t shake the White Stripes comparison, which is odd as Nautical Theme are a Folk duo; well Alt. Folk with a smattering of Indie Rock in the shadows if I’m being honest……I can’t imagine them singing the Wild Rover, that’s for sure.
Tesla gets to show what an emotional singer she is too, with the pair duetting in the old fashioned sense on Long Day and Night and Can’t You Just, two really intensely bittersweet love songs of immense proportions, baring in mind only two people are involved.
Primarily it’s Shetler who takes the lead and what a distinctive voice he has; as it soars and swoops like Charlie Brown’s kite on Wanted More and the powerful and profound Jump Out of the Water.
It’s difficult to imagine a duo recreating this ‘muscular sound’ on stage; but songs like the sensitive Have a Little Fun and What We Deserve may even benefit from an occasional ‘softening up’ but I do like the way both sound fiery and even angsty on this record.
For a couple of days I presumed that I would select one of two opening tracks as our ‘favourite track’ but earlier today the final track So Long Dear finally caught my attention and made me press ‘repeat’ three times so that I could wallow in the beauty of both voices intertwining on an almost evangelical acapella song, which is truly outstanding and therefore collects the RMHQ Favourite Track accolade.
Probably because FLOAT is an acoustic album it will be filed under Folk but there is so much more here that I could also be in the Indie, Alt. Rock and singer-songwriter sections of your local record store too.
I fervently stand by my White Stripes comparison but there are elements of Simon and Garfunkel, Little Big Town, Richard and Linda Thompson and even the Civil Wars here too; but Nautical Theme are very much Nautical Theme on their own terms, and should be very proud of this debut album and there will be a few headline acts that will regret booking them as a support, because they have the ability to blow a few bands off the stage,

Released April 20th 2018

Birds of Chicago – ROLL AWAY (Single)

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Birds of Chicago
ROLL AWAY (Single)
Signature Sounds

March 6, 2018 – Today, Birds of Chicago announce May 4th as the release date for their upcoming album Love in Wartime on Signature Sounds, and share the first track “Roll Away”. Led by JT Nero and Allison Russell, Birds of Chicago are known for their seamless combination of rock n roll meets “near perfect Americana” (No Depression). Nero and Russell recently recorded Love in Wartime, an album envisioned as a cinematic rock n roll suite, with producer Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars)at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio in Chicago.

The first single “Roll Away” was written as a shot in the arm for the heartsick, hibernating or otherwise embittered, and invokes the rites of spring with the very real sense that there’s no time to lose.

Here’s a live version…………….


joan baez x

Joan Baez
Proper Records

The First Lady of American Folk Still Surprises, Astonishes and Delivers.

For once I don’t have to do an introduction do I? This is Joan Baez after all…..what else do you need to know?
Well; to coincide with Ms. Baez’s final ever Tour this album is yet again made up of songs written by her favourite contemporary songwriters; with a couple of delightful surprises along the way.
The Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan song Whistle Down The Wind, which doubles as the title track opens proceedings and the first thing you notice is how beautiful Joan’s voice still is on this pleasing almost Celtic rendition of the song from Bone Machine.
Joan covers another of the couples more poetic songs; with the words of Last Leaf (on the tree) sounding uncannily perfect for Joan who is now of a ‘certain vintage’ herself.
With a million songs to choose from, only another couple were already familiar here at RMHQ with
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s The Things That We Are Made Of now becoming almost anthemic and Josh Ritter’s delicate Be Of Good Heart and Silver Leaf both sounding like they could have been on Joan’s debut album in 1960, thanks to the ethereal production from Joe Henry.
One of Henry’s own songs makes an appearance too; and Civil War takes on a whole new resonance in the hands and voice of American Folk Music’s First Lady…….’beautiful’ only comes close to describing the way she performs his words.
The major surprise for me though are the songs I’d never heard before; Eliza Gilykson’s The Great Correction is another timeless song that sounds like Joan could have recorded at anytime in the last 60 years as is Tim Erikson’s I Wish The Wars Were All Over; which is a stunning way to close this wonderful collection of songs.
Then of course I’m obliged to pick a ‘Favourite’ which in the light of today’s political shenanigans in the USA I can’t look past he stunning words of Zoe Mulford on The President Sang Amazing Grace. I’d not heard of Zoe prior to hearing this song…….but WOW……and indeed WOW……if the rest of her songs are half as powerful as this one song; she’s a very talented writer indeed and Joan Baez sings it as if her very life depends on you hearing it.
So, there you have it; Joan Baez’s 25th studio album and first in 10 years and she still has the ability to surprise with her choice of songs and, more importantly the way she delivers the words on a silver platter is astonishing after all of this time.

Released March 2nd 2018