Quasi-Alt. Country Folk Meets The Punk Rockers Uptown
If I’m being brutally honest I’ve always liked the ‘idea’ of the Mekons more than their actual music; and that includes seeing them live several times alongside a couple of pals who are more or less tribal followers. But, that might actually finally change with this album, their 22nd (?) full length album. It was probably opening track Lawrence of California that won me over last week; with the pumping bass and Quasi-Alt. Country Twang masking an articulate, nay poetic Folk Ballad of epic proportions ……. quite perfect for a midnight drive home from work in a mood as dark as the Black Hole of Calcutta. It’s quite an uncompromising start; and to misquote someone else, The Mekons ‘start with a bang and move upwards!” Mercifully for me, the songs here are more on the Folky spectrum of their combined talents than the noiseniks that I saw at the Riverside in Newcastle; with How Many Stars being almost pastoral as Tom Greenhalgh’s deadpan vocals unravel a magical and occasionally mystical tale. For Alt. Country fans like what I am; The Mekons are a veritable Who’s Who of the genre, with many being the backbone of some of my favourite Bloodshot albums. I have a couple of Sally Timms albums and when she comes to the fore on In The Desert and the punchy Electro-Punk of Into The Sun (alongside Jonboy Langford?) a much maligned genre becomes very cool indeed. That’s the joy, but not the biggest surprise that this album has to offer; the sum of all the individual talents combine to go off on a multitude of tangents yet remain a quintessential Mekons album. Where to go for a Favourite Track? Who knows, as every song here will appeal to different people for different and often quite extraordinary reasons. Weimar Vending Machine is dark and brooding; and really touched a spot that first cold night? Tom Greenhalgh droll vocals brings an acid drenched excitement to HARAR 1883; and the lyrics are quite mind bending too making it a contender. But; and this may even be controversial among the more astute longstanding Mekons fans; I’m plumping for the quirky and, dare I say it…… poppy Andromeda. It’s as left-field as The Mekons get….. and boy can they go way, way out left! In my defense it’s just four and a half minutes of gorgeous musical wizardry that sums up what the Mekons are, and should be. A tune that can’t decide if it’s Folk, Indie or World, an array of classic and even classical instruments that shouldn’t work together but do; a singer who wouldn’t get past the auditions on X-Factor and a weird set of lyrics that has me singing along the the odd line or two. What’s not to like? Not for the first or indeed the last time this year I’ve fallen in love with an album that “Isn’t for everyone” and that’s intentional ……. The Mekons tread their very own idiosyncratic path that leads the listener into dark, dangerous territories that will scare the casual listener; but the musical world is a much better place for bands and albums like this.
Jerry Leger & The Situation Retrospective 2005-19 Ltd Edition Golden Rocket Records
The Best of the Best of the Canadiacana New Wave.
It’s very easy to criticise the internet and everything it stands for; but for every bad deed it is responsible for there is also a Good Karma opposite reaction too; and my discovering Jerry Leger in 2018 is one of the latter, via his recent Early Riser and From Nonsense and Heartache albums. So it was with heightened excitement that I recently discovered that not only is Jerry Leger & The Situation returning to these fair shores in April and May but to coincide there will be this *Retrospective album culling together The Best Of his 9 albums! Being a newcomer to the World of Leger my heart skipped a beat when I heard him go all Rockabilly on opening track Red City with it’s chunka-chunka guitar and rinky-dinky piano beats as Leger twists his vocal chords inside out on a really danceable tune. I won’t bore you with listing the albums that the songs are from, as a) fans will already know and b) new purchasers can easily find that out from the album sleeve! It’s a personal thing on my behalf, but I love Leger’s nasally vocals even more than his clever songwriting style; and the band aren’t afraid of a melody either; which is always a plus point. I guess if I was dissect these 20 songs like a Bob Dylan fanatic discovering another 37 versions of Hard Rain; I’m pretty sure that I would find that Jerry Leger’s writing skills have evolved and matured over the last 15 years; but I’m just taking this collection at face value and loving every single moment. For a Canadian singing Americana; there’s a decidedly Britishness to several songs here; with hints of The Kinks, Squeeze, Graham Parker and even Scotland’s finest export Orange Juice in the likes of See My Baby Run, Beating The Storm and the exquisite Wrong Kind of Girl ; and there are plenty of others in that vein too. For existing fans there is the inclusion of two ‘outtakes’ to get excited about; Beating The Storm with it’s beguiling guitar work and pleading vocal performance and also You Really Got It Bad which with nothing to compare it to; made my heart flutter anyway. Of the newer songs that I already knew; Another Dead Radio Star, Factory Made and It Don’t Make The Wrong Go Away sound even crisper than I’d remembered now they sit alongside their musical heritage. I know for once that I haven’t given this album enough time to genuinely select a Favourite Song; but I’m going to throw a couple of contenders into the ring and see what happens; Den Of Sin with it’s sleazy bottle-neck opening, and raggedy chorus is quite special; while any song titled Wrong Kind of Girl is always going to interest me; and this one actually lives up to it’s enigmatic title and the feisty New Wave meets Country-Rag influenced Americana of Too Broke to Die has to be one of those songs that will be an ear-worm for days after hearing it, and also a highlight of any drunken night out if you ever find it on a Jukebox. *The first issue of RETROSPECTIVE 2005-19 is only being made available for sale at the imminent European Tour, but this album is so damn good I’ll be disappointed and surprised if it’s not going to turn up on the website soon afterwards; and will be the perfect introduction to the Leger World that I’m already immersed in.
California Goes Country With Added Popliciousness.
It doesn’t happen often enough here at RMHQ but occasionally we like to open a cold beer, kick back and have……FUN, FUN, FUN and The Popravinas tick that box with a big bright felt tip pen! I first played a couple of tracks a few weeks ago and knew immediatly that to get the best from this album it should be a sunny day and I was preferably in my car, which is exactly what happened this afternoon, so with my cheap sunglasses in place I pushed the pedal to the metal for the drive home. Talkin’ Out Loud is chock full of crunchy guitars, a pneumatic bass and harmonies so thick you can’t see through them. Somewhere between Jonathan Richman, the Beach Boys and half a dozen bands from the 2nd Wave of Mod, this song needs to played exceptionally loud and with the windows down as far as they will go. Tim’s basement follows and my car stereo could hardly handle the popliciousness of it, but thankfully I could and found myself shouting along with the catchy chorus. Coincidentally I had to slow the car down for roadworks just as track #3 Did Ya came on; as it’s a lot mellower with not just an acoustic guitar but a cut glass pedal-steel for good measure too. These guys are now onto their third album in just over 10 years; but really know not just how to write and deliver a super slice of modern Americana influenced Pop Music; but how to mess with our emotions via the way the album is put together. They can out ‘Rock’ many Alt.Country bands with Dun Me In and Almost Sick; but also tug on the old heartstrings with Up The Coast to San Francisco too. Oddly enough it’s just as much fun listening again tonight as it was driving along with the wind in my hair and this album as my soundtrack; and not just today but two weeks ago I decided that the song Hard Way to Make an Easy Living, wasn’t just my new theme tune but one that will resonate with most musicians in my spectrum; therefore it is easily the RMHQ Favourite Song by an Alt. Country Mile! Four songs have been co-opted onto my ‘Soundtrack to Summer 2019’ playlist, and the CD itself will be transferred to the glove box of the car in the morning; as this is the perfect accompaniment for any car journey (or BBQ btw); regardless of the weather and any band who mirror Lynard Skynard by giving you a pronunciation guide (pr The Pope-rah-veen-ahs) have to be good guys in my book.
Fiery Country-Punk With a Side Order of Kick Ass Mariachi!
I really don’t know how they do it; but the home of Insurgent Country, Bloodshot Records has found another gem here……The Vandoliers! Even before I’d read the Press Release I correctly guessed that these, self proclaimed ‘Converse Cowboys’ must come from Texas; because where else would this fearsome hybrid possibly come from, and indeed they actually hail from Fort Worth. Last week I played 5 or 6 tracks over a couple of days in the car; and today dressed in a Trucker Cap, a Big Damn Band t-shirt, mirrored Wayfarers and not having shaved for two days I was looking for something to play on a road trip to ‘oil country’ in Teeside, when I remembered this album. So metaphorically pushing the cassette into the player (my trusty i-phone actually) I set off on my journey; and within two minutes of Miles and Miles my Renault Laguna morphed into a Dodge Ram and I was now travelling along the blacktop of Texas with the machine cranked up to TEN. With a million Alt,Country Rock bands on the circuit you have to be pretty special to stand out these days; and The Vandoliers do that not just with some great songs but they incorporate a good old fashioned fiddle player and a Mariachi style brass section to compliment a singer with a voice that you aren’t born with; but comes from a hard life fronting bands in noisy bars, and a guitarist who out Slash’s Slash, plus a rhythm section that can slide seamlessly between romantic balladry and full on machine gun RAWK with consummate ease and skill. That’s the background; but what about the songs? Every one is a 24 carat diamond! All on Black and Bottom Dollar Boy are both very clever takes on the ‘bad luck’ theme we know and love; but you ain’t heard nothing like this ‘sound’; and they add fresh ‘magic dust’ to a tale of life on the road with Shoshone Rose; making being in a band playing dive bars sound quite romantic. I guess that’s what I love about these songs; lead guitarist, singer and songwriter Joshua Fleming brings a new spirited and even spunky approach to all the things we take for granted in Country Music. Sixteen Years appears to detail the band’s or at least singer Travis Curry’s torrid and tragic career to get to today fronting the coolest band this side of the Rio Grande. There was no better soundtrack to today’s car journey that Nowhere Fast, which now sits alongside Bruce and Chuck Berry on my ‘driving playlist’. Not everything here is fast and furious; The Vandoliers can do ballads too, with Travis Curry making his fiddle gently weep on Tumbleweed and using the metaphor Cigarettes in The Rain for a fragile and troubled relationship is almost genius, and certainly tear inducing. Then there is my Favourite Song…… one which caught my attention last week; and because of events during the intervening few days made Troublemaker my current anthem! Combining the Mariachi brass of Ring of Fire, the fiddle from the Devil Went Down To Georgia with a backing band that sound like something from Sun Records on Meth and a singer who sounds like Billy Idol in a Cowboy Hat on a song about someone who could get into an argument in a phone box, only goes some of the way to describe this amazing track! In these complicated days when it’s hard to know what really constitutes ‘Country Music’, I’m going to point you towards this album…… it will appeal to Cow Punks and Old School Cowboys and Cowgirls, Hipster Alt. Country fans and anyone who just vaguely likes quality, well written, interesting and classy but righteously ragged Rock and Roll!
Ryan Bingham American Love Song Axster Bingham Records
Authentic, Heartfelt, Introspective and Gold Plated Country Rock.
With a four year gap between albums I’m not sure where Ryan Bingham fits into today’s Country Music pantheon…….. Country? Nu-Country? Ameripolitain? Country Rock? I sure don’t know, but he’s certainly still got everything there needs to be the Cover Star on all of the magazines and radio; but the industry sadly has a very short memory. That said; his current European Acoustic tour appears to be in Sold Out Halls everywhere he appears. So, on to his sixth album and only third we’ve reviewed (the others were Junky Star and Tomorrowland in my magazine days) and after two days I think it could be his *Spoiler Alert …… his best to date. The quirky Honky-Tonky Jingle and Go opens the album and your feet will be tapping and shuffling from the get go, and by the third time you hear it you will be mouthing along with the chorus. He’s back……. and on fine form! You’ve hardly got time to catch you breath when Bingham cranks up the pace (and volume) for a spirited Country Rocker, of the Deluxe variety with Nothing Holds Me Down, which features some really dirty guitar playing too by the way! To some degree, for me at least there are surprises around every corner…… there’s an authentic and what sounds like deeply personal Country Blues song that will send shivers down your spine; Got Damn Blues; and the album closes with another swig from the same Mason Jar, Blues Lady (which may or may not be about Janis Joplin) and both hinting at Ryan immersing himself in The Stones Exile on Main St. album over the last few years. The stripped back Wolves, which was a single last year is here again and finds Ryan looking back on a stormy childhood in a very poetic manner; and one a lot of other similar songwriters could learn from. Maybe it’s the mood I’m in today; but the slow and brooding acoustic tales have really touched my soul, especially the brittle love songs Lover Girl Beautiful & Kind, which show a new found maturity in both Bingham’s writing but his delivery too. At first it sounded in a similar vein, as it’s acoustic but when you listen intently to the final song America you hear a man who feels real pain for the state his country finds itself in; and the helplessness it leaves him and millions of others in. I could be wrong, but it’s a song so powerful it will probably find its home in Europe as opposed to the heartlands of America itself. I hop I’m wrong. Because the album is what it is, flitting back and forth between introspective acoustic songs and foot stompin’ Rockers, I’m going for one of each as my Favourite Songs here (but you could really stick a pin in and find a winner!)……. Pontiac is a full on Country Rocker that conjures up all of the magical and romantic images that I’ve grown up with from Bruce, Little Feet and The Burritos to name but three, and this gem sits up there with the very best. The first time I heard Stones I took for granted that it was a Gram Parsons song; but nope this is Ryan Bingham at his most haunting and very, very best. Since his last album Bingham has tragically lost both parents which has obviously taken it’s toll on him; but as a songwriter he get the opportunity to work out his demons in music and prose; sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively and very few have done that better than Ryan Bingham does with American Love Song from start to immaculate finish.
Yippee Why Aye Music Lovers! There’s a new Felice Brothers album on the way…….. and here’s the title track Undress, for your personal delectation.
Plus…. here’s what they have to say about the album: “Cut live to tape with very little overdubbing,Undress was recorded in the late summer of 2018 in Germantown, New York. Band members Ian Felice, James Felice, Will Lawrence (drums) and Jesske Hume (bass) teamed up with producer Jeremy Backofen to record their most personal and reflective album to date.
“Many of the songs on the new album are motivated by a shift from private to public concerns,” says songwriter Ian Felice. “It isn’t hard to find worthwhile things to write about these days, there are a lot of storms blooming on the horizon and a lot of chaos that permeates our lives. The hard part is finding simple and direct ways to address them.”
Undress follows the band’s 2016 album Life In The Dark, and finds the group in a very different place three years later. Between personnel changes, families growing and the political landscape, the result is a tighter, more-paired down release. “Every song is a story,” said James Felice. “On this album everything was a bit more thoughtful, including the arrangements, the sonic quality and the harmonies.”
Here’s a name y’all know……. Mr. Gurf Morlix, Record Producer Extraordinaire, but he’s also a famed songwriter and judging by this, his TENTH solo album…… a mighty fine singer too (and that’s all before I tell you he plays every bloody instrument here barring drums and the Hammond B3!). Normally I would hate someone so talented; but with Gurf Morlix…… I just can’t get past the fact that I love him and his warm growl of a voice. Opening song, the swirling and rocking Turpentine very nearly stopped my heart and it really did stop me breathing for 30 seconds while I was gripped listening to Morlix’s words on a very twisted love song. Here’s the chorus……”Your kisses taste like turpentine!” Twisted love song? Hell yeah! After all these years listening to music I still remain totally baffled as to why an album by a singer (in this case Gurf Morlix) can hit me so instantaneously, as if I’ve known the songs all my life, yet other albums which sound very similar either take time to capture my attention or pass me by altogether. What is this witchcraft? Like many of the people he works with, Morlix really is a Master-craftsman when it comes to creating a song, making really intelligent and thought provoking prose like Sliver of Light or Spinnin’ Planet Blues sound quite simple and even ‘easy on the ear,’ until you find yourself going “Oh!” and then taking the track back to the beginning and listening so intently you’d think you were discovering the meaning of life. For a solo album Morlix can still Rock & Roll like a band; his self-depreciating tale of surviving a heart attack; My Heart Keeps Poundin’ will surely find its way onto forthcoming albums by some of our more feted Alt. Country bands who will see it as a single layered Love Song; when there is so much more hiding in the shadows of each groove. Much like the other three Gurf Morlix albums I own, IMPOSSIBLE BLUE will come out occasionally but regularly over the years to come when the likes of I Saw You, with it’s spine of torrid jealousy spring to mind and only Gurf’s wise words will satisfy my cravings. But then he also writes and delivers songs of the Alt. Noir variety that very few others can come close to; I’m a Ghost is a complete blockbuster wrapped up in 6 glorious minutes; and if I still had my radio show I would link it directly to Bottom of the Musquash River for the best/worst 11 minutes of radio you will ever hear in this lifetime. I’ve only played this album three times before sitting here on a cold wintry Sunday morning and ‘I got it’ from the get go; but nothing prepared me for the final song here Backbeat of the Dispossessed. A very personal song to Gurf, as it’s for and about a close friend Michael Bannister who died recently; but such is the writer’s way with words this extraordinary song will mean something very personal to many people who will think of their own loved ones when they hear it. And none of them are even close to being my Favourite Song! That award goes to the sublime and intense 2 Hearts Beating In Time; a love song of a variety that has been written many times before but Morlix captures the unspoken words many of us feel; but can’t either let go or actually enunciate; but Gurf speaks for all of us. It is still only February 3rd and this album is already a contender for the Year End Top 20 and should; but won’t be in the runners and riders for all of the Awards Ceremonies …… sad but true; but you and me will know how brilliant this man and his 10th Album actually is.
Last year’s interesting Double, or was it two seperate albums from Rhode Island’s finest; Deer Tick opened a door, not just for me but Deer Tick themselves it appears. For a variety of reasons that aren’t particularly clear, they have rearranged a few songs from those two albums so that they are now virtually unrecognisable from the originals, added some brand new musings and cobbled them together with some really fascinating cover versions for this latest release. Not knowing what to expect; but liking a lot of last years releases I pressed play on my I-Phone and what came out of the car stereo was initially a Bluesy ramble, that soon became a sensory onslaught that soon had me turning the dial to the left! Bluesboy (or Spirals as the Press Release calls it) is the sort of Pearl Jam/Nirvana quiet/loud/loud/quiet/loud song that Son #1 would play far too loud in his bedroom 20 years ago; then it’s immediatly followed by a winsome slice Rock-Folkery with both a melody and a chorus called Limp Right Back, which leads us into a journey through the looking glass of what makes Deer Tick tick. While that first song gives the impression that Deer Tick are shoe gazing Rockers; but at heart I think they are really post-Hippy Folkies brought up on a diet of Gram era Country music; as that’s the real direction they take us in. These guys are good; really good and have a ballistic range when it comes to writing songs; Old Lady and Hey Yeah! are polar opposites with the latter being quite poppy by comparison, but both are commercial enough for what used to be called Student Radio. We also get a bit of Country-Rock on the final two songs, the alternate version of Doomed From the Start conjures up images the Nevada Desert at twilight and album closer Cocktail, featuring the sublime pedal-steel of Spencer Collum Jr. is such a heady mix it could be The Burritos covering a Jimmy Buffet song at midnight in Vegas hotel lounge, as your lady friend has just disappeared with the young bartender. I think it’s fair to say that Deer Tick’s choice of songs to cover is eclectic; but when you hear them pay homage to the Pogues on White City, turn the Velvet’s Pale Blue Eyes into a pseudo-Native American hymnal while also unearthing a George Harrison soft-rocker called Run of the Mill you understand how their distinctive sound (in all its glory) has evolved. This hasn’t been a particularly ‘easy listen’ for me; but the sum of the piece is better than the constituent parts in many ways, although two songs especially stand out. The first is one of their new songs, the wordy Strange, Awful Feeling and the other is a cover of a song from Ben Vaughn whom I’d not heard of before hearing Deer Tick turn Too Sensitive For This World into a spine-tingling Lo-Fi/ Alt. Rock/Indie hybrid that has me yearning for a whole album in the vein of these two beauties.
Josh Ritter Old Black Magic (video) Pytheas Recordings/Thirty Tigers
We’ve been fans of the chameleon like Josh Ritter for a very long time now; and have been totally blown away by the first track from his forthcoming April release album FEVER BREAKS, which isn’t just produced by Jason Isbell esq. but features the almighty 400 Unit throughout! Personally I’m already giddy with excitement.
Country Gold From the Ozark Mountains via The Swamps of Sweden.
This is another one of those albums that arrives unannounced and pretty much unheralded (NO Press Release!); but a cursory listen to the first couple of tracks rushed it right up the ‘to do’ pile! Dave Rosewood doesn’t appear to have a website and his Facebook account is ‘enigmatic’ to say the least; but at least I found out that this is his debut album and came about after leaving the Ozark Mountains to live in Sweden! But…… there’s always the music! It was opening track Seeds that initially caught my attention…… a down home Country song with one foot in Allmans territory and the other firmly rooted in Bakersfield, if I’m not mistaken. There’s some mighty sweet sweet guitar, a maudlin fiddle, a pedal-steel that will break your heart and a rhythm section of industrial strength behind Rosewoods authentic and worn Country voice…… what’s not to like? It’s not apparent how autobiographical songs like the deep and mysterious Oh No More, or Blowin’ Round and Back When are; but that doesn’t matter a jot as Rosewood can write and deliver a song so rich in glorious detail and rustic charm you’d think he’d been typing away on Music Row for decades, before getting this good. While there’s a helluva lot going on behind Rosewood, and it’s quite spectacular on Waitin’ To Be Free and the title track Gold & Gravel; what I like most of all is Rosewood’s astute storytelling and the way he delivers his words with poise, balance and authority via his leathery and worn voice. In the modern way, there aren’t any obvious singles here; but two songs stand out for me, 20 Years is a magnificent tale of a man released from jail and ‘swearing not to return’……. trust me, it could and should turn up on an album by one of Nashville’s ‘hat acts’ who are on the look out for the best Johnny Cash song, that the Man in Black never wrote! The other is the RMHQ Favourite song here; Someday. Apart from saying it’s timeless and stuffed full of harmonies, sublime guitar licks and a military drum and bass that all combine to make me think I could be listening to the Fabulous Burrito Brothers, or maybe The Byrds or is it Alabama or Poco? Nope….. it’s Dave Rosewood and his Swedish mates! I’m no longer sure what Country Music actually is these days, as it appears to have splintered off into a thousand sub-genres; but this album is 100% Pure Damn Country in the spirit of Cash, Merle, Waylon and even the Allman Brothers!