New Riders of The Purple Sage THANKSGIVING IN NEW YORK CITY

New Riders of The Purple Sage
THANKSGIVING IN NEW YORK CITY
Omnivore Records

Back To The Future For Some Superbly Timeless Psychedelic Country Rock.

One of the great joys of this ‘reviewing malarkey’ is discovering new music every week; and that doesn’t just mean lonely singer-songwriters or bar bands releasing their self-financed debuts; but also finally discovering acts like this whose name would cropped up in ‘Import ads’ in the back of NME and Melody Maker every week of my teenage years.
Before last Sunday I’d genuinely never heard a note from New Riders of The Purple Sage in my entire life; so it was with barely bated excitement that I placed it in the cd player.
Recorded at the Academy of Music, NYC on Thanksgiving 1972 this live recording (3 x LP’S or 2 x CD’s) has lain dormant ever since (although I wouldn’t be surprised if bootlegs have been available).
I had absolutely no idea what to expect, so was delighted when opening track Leaving On Her Mind was a melodiously loose Country Rocker in the style of the Burritos; plenty of pedal-steel (which was still a mythical instrument in Co. Durham at that time) and actual harmonies ….. wow ……. I only came to this type of music in the 80’s so can’t imagine how exciting it must have been here at the birth of a musical genre.
As was their won’t way back when, bands were prone to having eclectic set lists, mixing their own songs with some from their peers and adding in a few oldies just for the Hell of it; and New Riders’ were no different; which gives us an odd but fun version of Hello Mary Lou which is a bit of a doozy actually; and later there’s a neat Americana drenched interpretation of Honky Tonk Women which has aged better than it may have deserved; and the night closes with an 11 minute plus jam based around Willie and the Hand Jive; which I remember being a staple of many local bands to me.
In between Kitty Wells’ She’s No Angel is played absolutely straight as a dye and Long Black Veil is as good a version as I think I’ve ever heard; with John Dawson’s voice being perfect for this desperately maudlin song, and I just love this version of the Humble Pie Classic I Don’t Need No Doctor too.
For me the biggest surprises of the pleasant variety, have come from their own songs; especially Henry and Last Lonely Eagle which are both songs that would have made various playlists and compilations I’ve made over the years; and All I Ever Wanted stands up there with the finest songs from this generation; IMHO.
Baring in mind the band’s ‘history’ another huge surprise for me is how they’ve managed to cram in 22 songs into a set that lasts just over an hour and a half. I own several Live double albums from this period that only have 7 or 8 self-indulgent tracks on them; but here every track is almost perfectly constructed to get as much out of the few minutes allotted to them …… these guys are professionals through and through.
With the benefit of hindsight ‘Groupie’ was ‘of it’s time’, but forgive me as it’s a crackling little Rock Song that I rather like.
There are a whole bunch of songs that I can choose from as my Favourite Song here; Truck Drivin’ Man is a belter that I know I’m going to revisit on some playlist or other next Summer; while Portland Woman and Louisiana Lady show what a sharp and insightful songwriter John Dawson is/was; and the melody’s both have a timeless element to them as well.
But one particular song has outshone the others for me; Contract (by bass player Dave Torbert) who also sings it; is the type of 70’s Country Rock that is now the template for what we now call Alt. Country and sounds as thrilling today as it must have been to those kids nearly half a century ago; therefore I decree that Contract is the RMHQ Favourite Song on this fabulous album.
With so much great music in this style, swilling around these days I don’t know if many young fans will be attracted here; but if like me you’ve not heard New Riders of The Purple Sage ……. this just may be the perfect starting point; if only to hear where all your current favourite bands got their influences from.

Released November 23rd 2019
http://omnivorerecordings.com/shop/thanksgiving-in-nyc/

Kim Richey in Concert Jumpin’ Hot Club, Newcastle.

Kim Richey
Jumpin’ Hot Club
Live Theatre
Newcastle
November 16th 2019

Despite what I often imply, Mrs. Magpie and I agree on a lot more music than we actually disagree on; and top of that list is Ms Kim Richey; so tonight was a highly anticipated gig in our household.
With hindsight, opening act Jimmi Mack was an odd choice, simply because he is a bonafide Olde Schoole Folke Singer. Nothing wrong with that in the right setting of course; but tonight his deeply intense and often personal songs jarred with what the audience had come to hear from the headline act.
On another night, and in another setting Mack’s delicate and fascinating guitar playing on the ‘Allen Ginsberg inspired’ instrumental and his songs Wander and Soon would have been spellbinding; instead of the polite applause afforded them by the Sold Out crowd.
After a 15 minute break Kim Richey was guided through the packed room with guitar in one hand and a Star Wars coffee mug in the other.
With no disrespect intended to Jimmi Mack, the evening took an immediate upwards turn right from the opening bars of Every River, which was greeted with a roar of approval and loud applause as the final guitar flourish left the speakers.
With a back catalogue dating back to 1995 Kim regaled us with a veritable Best Of for the next 90 minutes, and being a natural raconteur interspersed them with the most charming of stories.
We are ‘late to the party’ so songs like Chinese Boxes and Thorn in My Heart were not just new delights but very, very special songs indeed.
Early on the singer said she was happy to sing any requests we had; although ‘she couldn’t guarantee she could remember everything!’ The first was A Place Called Home, with its lovely rolling guitar parts and delicate phrasing; and now I’ve just ordered the album to hear it again.
With Edgeland from 2018 being her most recent release and nothing new to promote, tonight was a refreshing change with the songwriter just singing songs that ‘just took her fancy’ as the night progressed.
While apologising for constantly re-tuning her guitar Ms Richey reminded us that the beautiful, and in this setting ‘stark’ Pin a Rose was a co-write with Chuck Prophet! This was the first of three songs from that album; with her Goddaughter’s favourite Wild Horses sounding even more powerful without the ‘big backing’ of the recorded version and only her power-chords accompanying this outstanding song.
The night flew by and Kim Richey had already been on stage for 90 minutes when I looked at my watch for the first (and only) time!
The concert drew to a close with some more new songs to us; you could hear a pin drop during the heartbreaker The Absence of Your Company and the story behind the title of Angel’s Share added extra pathos to a song that was always destined to have us wiping tears from the eyes.
One of the many reasons I love ‘live music’ is that I’m going to see and hear something that no one else will ever see or hear apart from the others in that very room; and tonight during the finale I’m Alright Kim fumbled on the guitar parts! Goodness knows how many times she’s played this song over the years, but fumble she most certainly did. Laughing off the faux pas, Kim then went ‘off mic’ for the obligatory, “I can’t believe it’s not an encore, encore” and tonight the choice was exemplary; Sunday Morning, Coming Down.
I’ve heard many versions over the years; but in this intimate setting Kim Rung every ounce of emotion possible from Kristofferson’s modern day classic; and when the lights came up the audience; as one rose to their feet in noisy adulation and praise.

https://kimrichey.com/
http://www.jumpinhot.com/

Jerry Leger TIME OUT FOR TOMORROW

Jerry Leger
Time Out For Tomorrow
Latent Recordings

Classy 60’s and Indie Inspired Contemporary Canadiacana

We only stumbled upon the genius of Jerry Leger in 2018; but are now the proud owners of 5 of his albums and playing any of them couldn’t make us any happier.
Although appearing on the Cowboy Junkies label Latent Recordings and being produced by fellow Canadian, Michael Timmins, TIME OUT FOR TOMORROW couldn’t sound any more different from his previous offerings or those of the Cowboy Junkies by a country mile.
While Jerry says it was Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby, and Nick Lowe’s The Impossible Bird that inspired him to record these songs in this particular style; it appears to me that Messr’s Leger and Timmins immersed themselves in 60’s Classics before going into the studio, as the shimmering 3 mins and 20 seconds of opening track Canvas of Gold has elements of the Burrito’s, Byrds and even the Beatles circa Revolver in the harmonies and jangling guitars that surround Leger’s dreamy words.
The single Justine follows in a similar vein with an acoustic intro that leads into ever more sweet electrical guitar and Jerry pouring his heart out in a timeless and beautiful love song.
Okay, I’ve repeated myself too much about the 60’s ‘feel’ to these songs; and there’s no denying it; but don’t think this album and the songs therein are ‘retro’ or even a pastiche …….. no sirree Bob; the punchy Read Between The Lines and Corner Light are as contemporary as songwriting gets; it’s just that the delivery of the melodies that will have you tapping your toes as Jerry Leger’s words break your heart.
As he sings in Corner Light,
“She treats me like a person/She don’t treat me like a clown.” Good stuff? Huh?
The enigmatic Survived Like a Stone actually has a Cowboy Junkies back-beat to it; but Leger’s distinctively expressive voice sweeps and soars in a way that makes this song a stone cold killer!
I can’t really express how exciting these songs are to me; Leger’s storytelling just goes from strength to strength, especially with Tell a Lie and Tomorrow in My Mind which are both stunningly outstanding IMHO.
For my Favourite Song I’m erring towards the lovely I Would; but have probably gone for Burchell Lake, mostly because of the fearless melody that has me tapping both feet and fingers in tandem; and Leger’s words, while not actually having a noticeable chorus still had me singing along with carefree glee each time I’ve played it.
I haven’t got all of Jerry Leger;s back catalogue, but have enough to know this is a really classy step up for my Canadian friend and there’s nothing here for radio or national magazines across the globe to dislike; so reviews everywhere should be as glowing as this one and that should surely beget radio plays, which in turn will beget sales.
Fingers crossed.

Released November 8th 2019
https://jerryleger.com/
Buy it here https://jerryleger.com/merch/

Ramblin’ Roots Festival – Tivoli Vredenburg, Utrecht Holland

Ramblin’ Roots Festival
Tivoli Vredenburg
Utrecht
Holland
19th October 2019

The Dutch Ramblin’ Roots Festival (not to be confused with the English Festival with a similar name) has historical links to the older well-respected Blue Highways festival. The current festival is homed in a huge and spectacular entertainment complex with a variety of different size venues and public art spaces spread over nine floors, from the largest Grote Zaal on the ground floor to the smaller Cloud Nine up on the…yes, you’ve guessed it – ninth floor.
Like the TakeRoot Festival in Groningen, there were no planned gaps between performances in different locations, so a plan had to be made and routes up and down in the lifts and on the escalators taken to ensure that as little was missed as possible.
Most of the keener folks found their way to the Pandora hall up on the 6th floor to see Robert Ellis as first act of the day. Sporting an all-white suit and wearing facial glitter, the “Texas Piano Man” strode a line between early Elton John and Ben Folds both in musical and performance style. “Fucking Crazy” opened the set and others like “Passive Aggressive” and “Topo Chico” (“an ode to Texan bubble water”) kept up the entertainment value. In the 70s, Robert Ellis would have been huge. There’s still time for the rest of the world to catch up.
Then it was the big elevator down to the main hall to catch Dustbowl Revival – the Californian outfit are the perfect good-time festival band, although the fact was lost on many of the first to arrive in the Grote Zaal took to their seats, unfamiliar with the soulful, New Orleans funky sound of the band. Indeed, guitarist and frontman Z. Lupetin remarked that they might be better served by standing – and dancing. It didn’t take long for them to make that happen, to be fair. A brass section of trombone and trumpet and a fiddle that at one point was made to sound like a Wurlitzer organ helped to conjure a vivid mix of southern styles. Two covers – of Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” helped give the band a touchstone with those of the crowd who were less familiar with their material but gave less of an insight into their “true” sound.
Then it was back up nine floors in a very packed lift to the ninth floor to catch a few minutes of Chance McCoy – musically he seems to be exploring several avenues in search of a common style at the moment and it seems a bit difficult to find an audience that appreciates both the more experimental and the traditional in his music. It will be interesting to see where it leads though.
It was then sideways across the ninth-floor foyer to discover that the room called “Hertz” is actually a 500-ish seater amphitheatre. Sway Wild, playing as a three piece were playing to a packed room. Like Dustbowl Revival earlier, their soulful, energetic sound might have had even more impact in a room designed for standing, but they were well-received for their soulful and at times almost Tom Verlaine-esque guitar as heard on songs like “Chimney Fire”.
Frazey Ford – back down on the ground floor was up next and was beautifully established in the setting with grand piano, vibrant shimmering acoustics and ethereal blue light to match her dress. Otherworldly stuff from the start off, she played a set that included several (unnamed to these ears) songs from a forthcoming new album. Not so angelic but striking was the wonderful “Motherfucker” played at the grand piano…and then it was time to get back in the lift again and up to the very top of the building once more to catch Rod Picott. Rod seems to be on a creative roll at the moment and this festival show was similarly charged to his recent UK shows but with a little less chat, down to the constraints of the festival time slot. We got a great versions of “Girl from Arkansas” and “Ghost” from “Tell the truth and shame the devil”…and a little chat about the venues that Rod and Slaid Cleaves used to play in as kids in metal tribute bands.


No rest for the wicked and it was all the way down nine floors again to get in position for Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore making their European band debut together. Unlike the acoustic duo shows that they have played, this was much more the full-on Guilty Ones rock’n’roll band experience, playing a mix of Dave’s songs “Johnny Ace is Dead”, rock’n’roll standards “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and Jimmie Dale’s “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own”. Dave dedicated “Marie Marie” which the two duetted on, to big brother Phil who he said is very unwell. If there’s regenerative power in rock’n’roll, there was plenty of energy for him to feed on in this show.
The main name of the festival may have taken their bows, but there was still more – up a mere 6 flights to Pandora to catch the set by Drivin’ & Cryin’. Early numbers were affected by a somewhat muddy guitar mix which reduced the finesse in their sound, but the happy accident of a guitar string breaking meant that Kevn/Kevin Kinney switched to acoustic which suited the venue’s rig and these ears, much more. A penultimate singalong of “Straight to hell” was followed with a somewhat disappointing cover of “Jumpin’ jack Flash” and then it was back downstairs again for the final time to catch North Mississippi Allstars. By now, some of the less hardy punters had caught the last electric bus but there was still a large crowd gathered in the Grote Zaal to boogie along to the funky jam band and soulful guitar of the Allstars – and there was even a psychedelic rub-board solo too, of which I heartily approved. Music for drinking and dancing at midnight – perfect.
All in all, an excellent, well-curated festival that may be a notch behind TakeRoot in terms of the big names on the scene that it attracted, but a great audience experience within each performance – good views, good sound and good music – now if they could just see their way to selling food in the lifts…

Review and Photos – the Legendary Nick Barber aka @efsb on Instagram/Twitter/Flickr

Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/efsb/albums/72157711435780662

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit 2 x REISSUES

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
Self-Titled Debut & Here We Rest
Thirty Tigers

Two Genre Defying and Groundbreaking Americana Albums.

JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT (2009)

A helluva lot has happened to Jason Isbell’s career since the release of his (and the 400 Unit’s) self-titled album in 2009.
Today he is certainly an A-Lister in not just the Americana and Alt. Country Camp, but has been accepted graciously and successfully into the mainstream Country World too …….. with his last album being recorded Live at the Ryman and another 7 night run at the same venue starting on Friday 18th October to coincide with the re-release of his/their first two albums.
As what I think of as a dyed in the wool fan; it behoves me to say I’d never heard the self-titled 2009 album before this week (and I’ve still never even seen a copy of its predecessor SIRENS IN THE DITCH) . In my defence; after leaving Drive-By Truckers in 2007, and the internet still in its infancy Isbell was only a bit player on the scene at that time and the album hardly made a dent in the UK Scene at the time.
So; it’s been really, really exciting to see how the incomparable sound they create today has evolved.
The intro to first track Seven Mile Island is a bit of a mish-mash; and even when Isbell’s (now) distinctive voice kicks in the spin-dryer drumbeat is still on overload, and alongside some quirky guitar (lead and steel) almost drowns out what just might be a very thoughtful song.
Not a great start; and if I’d been given this album to review 10 years ago …….. I may not have got as far as track #2!
But had I continued, Sunstroke would certainly have caught my attention; a dark and brooding pot-boiler that, with hindsight signals the start of the upward spiral the songwriter and associated band members were to go on.
I can’t imagine how listeners felt ten years ago; but this song sent a definite shiver down my back.
For the next song the guitars, piano and amps are cranked up to 11 and the band set fire to the listeners senses on Good. It’s loud; and so intense I can’t think of anyone else round about that time who were creating music like this song ……. making it quite groundbreaking; if I’m not mistaken.
Although this is the forerunner to what we have come to expect from Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit; these songs from start to finish have certainly stood the test of time; with (new songs to me) The Blue, Streetlights and When My Baby’s Beside Me all sounding as imaginative and still as fresh as a daisy 10 full years after they were recorded.
Plus there are a couple of songs which must have been quite mind bending back then; Soldiers Get Strange must have been a very brave and even dangerous song to write; and especially play live.
As I’ve never had the opportunity to see this band play live, I can’t think why I recognised Cigarettes and Wine; but I do and I think it will go on to feature prominently on any future Best Of/Retrospective they will release, as it sounds (again with hindsight) one of those ‘definitive songs’ that a band has.
As much as I like that, one other song here is genuinely outstanding, and is the template for some of Isbell’s future leftfield love songs; the type others have tried to emulate but failed miserably.
This Is The Last Song I Will Write is almost mind-expanding in the way Isbell sort of combines Hank’s observational writing style with Pink Floyd or is it Who At Last style psychedelia to create a song that is the benchmark for a lot of the music I have received in the last ten years and therefore my Favourite Track here.
As Jason Isbell’s name is at the forefront I keep using ‘him’ to describe; what’s happening; but trust me that this album; and everything else they have released is very much a band effort, with everyone involved combining to create this unique ‘sound.’

HERE WE REST (2011)

This is where I came in, reviewing this for Maverick Magazine; and even though it didn’t make a dent in the UK Charts at the time; the seeds were certainly sown for what was to follow.
The majestic Alabama Pines opens the disc in a way I’d not ever heard before …….. was this Country Rock? Not really; and Alt. Country was more or less just a handful of solo singer-songwriters at the time; so hearing a fully fledged band sound like this was like hearing the Beatles or Byrds for the first time.
Now, listening to both albums in chronological order It’s fair to say that the 400 Unit (and Jason Isbell) had been working really hard in the interim years to create ‘their sound’ with very few nods in any direction for direct influences (others may argue that pint; but they are wrong.)
With not hearing these songs in quite a few years; re-discovering We’ve Met and Heart on a String has been a real joy to behold; and I can distinctly remember playing Save It For Sunday on auto-repeat one night as I tried to unravel the ‘meaning of life’ contained therein.
Two songs contained here have gone on to become ‘definitive’ Jason Isbell songs and still occasionally feature on the finer Internet Radio stations (Somewhere there must be an Americana Gold radio station!) and who that hat has ever heard Codeine and/or Tour of Duty hasn’t been touched in one way or another.
Oh man; how heartbreaking is Codeine? I vaguely remember hearing this way back in ’11 and thinking I’d never heard such an obviously Country Song like it ever before; perhaps I still haven’t.
It was a similar feeling with Tour of Duty; which was and still is a million miles away from the Gung-ho ‘I love the flag’ songs that were filling the Country airwaves at the time; this was a very contemporary story and song that owed a debt to the Greenwich Village troubadours of the 60’s than it ever did Music Row.
I can still understand why I got so excited back in 2011; and most of the songs here have stood up to the tests of time; although I doubt The Ballad of Nobeard will ever get dusted off when they play the Ryman; but Daisy Mae and the twisted love song We’ve Met just might.
I’ve forced myself not to re-visit my original review to see what I selected as a Favourite Track; primarily because I’ve absolutely fallen in love with Heart on a String; which just may be one of Jason Isbell (and the 400 Unit’s) finest ever songs. Damn it ….. ‘might be’……. of course it is!
This has been a fabulous exercise for me; actually hearing the Self-Titled album for the first time and hearing one of the 21st Century’s most innovative and gifted Country/Roots/Americana bands coming together to create what has become a distinctive and definitive sound; that was and still is unlike any other out there.

Released October 18th 2019
http://www.jasonisbell.com/

Jeremy Ivey THE DREAM and The DREAMER

Jeremy Ivey
The Dream and The Dreamer
Anti- Records

The Dark Heart of Alt. Country Gets a New Voice.

As is my won’t I’d played this album a couple of times before I read the Press Release; and yet again I’m pleased I did because what I hear bares very little in connection to the prose of some in-house underwriter.
For me opening track Diamonds Back to Coal is a real ‘breath taker’ in the most literal sense; as it’s a deep and powerful view on the state of America; but without all the shouty angst. Ivey uses metaphor, nuance and even melody to get his message across in a way that will make Bob Dylan proud.
To all intents and purposes this is Americana at its very best; with Ivey (and producer Margo Price who just happens to be Jeremy’s wife!) combining Alt. Country and Indie, with the odd splash of Folk to create a sound that shames more established artists (and producers).
The subject matter isn’t always ‘easy on the ear’; with the duet with Margo Greyhound, Story of a Fish and Worry Doll all being perfect examples; with sing-along choruses and bitingly pithy lyrics masking two dark stories.
Jeremy Ivey is certainly ‘left of centre’ in the way he creates his characters and their situations; and in my humble opinion the world needs more songs like Gina The Tramp and Falling Man, with their deceptively mellow tunes but so full of piss and vinegar you can taste them in the air.
This sounds like a very personal album to me; which makes choosing a Favourite Song a burdensome task; as each and every song here has its merits; but I;m going to toss a coin to decide between Laughing Willy and the piano led (and John Lennon influenced?) darkly observational title track The Dream and the Dreamer.
Both are quite exceptional and possibly even ‘timeless’; but somehow the bitter angst of Laughing Willy is exactly what I needed to hear this morning …… so it wins (today).
While Jeremy Ivey and Margo Price are inextricably intertwined both musically and in their personal life; I’ve heard enough here to realise that Mr Ivey has more than enough talent not just to be the ‘wind beneath her wings’.

Released 13th September 2019
https://www.facebook.com/jeremyblainivey/
https://jeremyivey.bandcamp.com/



Angela Perley 4:30

Angela Perley
4:30
Self-Release

Alt. Country Power-Pop meets Punk on the corner of Sad and Lonely.

Well this is a turn up for the books! The publicist who sent this album is more noted for supporting the more Folkier and Rootsier end of the Americana spectrum; so the crunchy electric guitar and slightly angsty and sorrowful vocals on the opening title track 4:30 took me by surprise ……. in a good way.
Although Ms. Perley’s exquisite songwriting and storytelling can be a bit dark at times; songs like the punchy Back in Town and Dangerous Love have hooks that will still be in your head hours after last listening to them.
I don’t know who she is, but love the ‘effected snarl’ in Angela’s voice as she describes someone in her circle on the mean ‘n moody Snake Charmer. That ‘snarl’, or is it a ‘snear’ also appears on the tightly wound rockers Let Go and Friends (with the latter being the best song the Runaways never recorded!).
I’ve been really, really impressed with Angela Perley’s storytelling throughout 4:30; and especially so with the edgy but gentle and reflective Local Heroes which bleeds into Lost & Found; which is clever programming on someone’s behalf.
To some degree listening to this album has been a case of ‘right place/right time” as it’s been perfect company in the car on a couple of hot and sultry car journeys; which kind of sums up my two Favourite Songs; the maudlin Don’t Look Back Mary and He Rides High, which precedes it. Even with the Air Con on; you can taste the unrequited love and sense of longing in both songs; which both certainly put the Alt. back in the Country that I love.
Think an Americana drenched Bangles or and this even better; Angela Perley being some long lost relation of either Lucinda or Debbie Harry and too you will fall under her spell right from that razor-sharp opener through to the perky and bittersweet love song Walk With Me, which delightfully mixes Pop-Punk with Alt. Country melodrama ……… seriously; what’s not to like?

Released UK August 30th 2019
Released North America August 2nd 2019
https://www.angelaperley.com/
https://angelaperley.bandcamp.com/album/4-30

Jason Hawk Harris LOVE AND THE DARK

Jason Hawk Harris
Love and the Dark
Bloodshot Records

Pushing the Boundaries of Even Insurgent Country!

I somehow doubt Bloodshot Records have a huge team of A&R Execs haunting the dive bars across America seeking out the next Band to join their never ending roster of Insurgent Country acts.
But how else do you explain finding someone like Jason Hawk Harris? You’re never going to find his like on America’s Got Talent or whatever it’s called; and I guess there’s another 99 singers and bands who sound a bit like him who sent in cassettes of their songs too; but weirdly only Jason fits the Bloodshot bill, and he does it quite perfectly too.
I can’t even tell you what the Bloodshot ‘signature sound’ is; as every act is so very different; but right from the serenely sparkling opening track The Smoke and The Stars you just know this is a marriage made in Insurgent Country Heaven and you are the Guest of Honour.
I doubt I’m going to hear a more Countrier Country Drinkin’ song this year than Cussin’ at the Light which follows tout suite; and you can easily imagine the Ghost of George Jones smiling down benignly when he hears it; especially when Natalie Nicoles seamlessly slides in on harmony vocals.
Harris’s observations in his songs might pass a few by; especially if you are too busy dancing to Blessed Interruption, Confused or the irresistible ‘Honky-Tonky’ Red Room Blues; but at some stage take the time to actually listen to his words; you won’t regret it.
Before I get around to telling you about my Favourite Track, I’ve got to mention the staggering Grandfather which closes the album.
WOW!
The only other songwriter that I can think of who would dare to write a Country song like this, is Jason Isbell, and there’s even something in Harris’ phrasing that reminds me of Isbell too and it’s only because there’s an even stronger and stranger song here that means this amazing song is only my Second Favourite Song on this record.
Would could be better than that?
Phantom Limb, is the answer.
There are so many lines I can cherry pick to explain why this particular song has taken my breath away; but I’m going to select a couplet to wet your appetite …….
Harris softly describes his mother’s funeral thus,
“I got this shirt. Smells like the viewing/
Formaldehyde, tobacco and tulips/
I’ve washed it ten times, and it won’t come out.”
Dark and dangerous, gloomy and enigmatic but always accessible and full of songs that genuinely pushes the boundaries of Country Music in all its various formats ……. and my world is so much better for knowing this album exists.

Released August 23rd 2019
https://jasonhawkharris.com/




Eilen Jewell GYPSY

Eilen Jewell
Gypsy
Signature Sounds

Mighty Powerful Country Charged Americana.

Even though I have a couple of friends who will regularly travel hundreds of miles to see Eilen Jewell on her regular visits to the UK, she has somehow passed me by and remains a mystery to me.
I can’t think why.
It’s just one of those things.
So, I was quite excited when I received this, her 8th album, GYPSY .
MMMmmmm ……. I instantly liked opening track Crawl, a punchy and bouncy Country Rocker of old, graced by a shimmering fiddle from Katrina Nicholayeff and some excellent guitar interplay from Jerry Miller and Eilen herself.
The pace immediatly drops to a lazy afternoon stroll for Track #2 Miles to Go; and therein lies the beauty of this album and I’m assured, Eilen Jewell herself …….. she can turn her hand and mind to anything in the Americana gamut and put her own distinctive stamp on it.
It’s easy to hear the apprenticeship which started with her busking on the streets of Santa Fe and ultimately touring the world, coming to fruition with clever, intelligent and always accessible songs like the dark and brooding Working Hard For Your Love juxtaposed with the poignantly political 79 Cents (The Meow Song); which should be on every school curriculum across the USA; and the ethereal title track Gypsy, all of which are disparately different but come together to create a series of mood swings that will all end with you smiling, although tears will well in your eyes.
When it comes to choosing a Favourite Song I really am spoiled for choice; there’s the straight up Classic Country of These Blues and You Cared Enough to Lie, which if I didn’t know any better must surely have been a hit for Patsy Cline; but is actually a Pinto Bennett song that Eilen very much brings to life.
Another contender is Fear, which closes the record and straddled Folk, Alt. and Country in the way I normally associate with Ms Nanci Griffith; but I’m going for HARD TIMES, a folk anthem that follows in the footsteps of many songs of a similar title; and in 2019 I’d have hoped such words and sentiments would have been banished to the history books……. but instead of invoking the spirits of Woody Guthrie and Steinbeck; Eilen Jewell is singing about what she sees daily from her window. A sad indictment of our times; but a beautiful song none the less.
This album has been quite a journey for me; and I could see from the first play why so many people are devoted fans, yet she remains unknown to me and millions of others ……. let’s put that right now; go buy this album!

Released August 16th 2019
http://www.eilenjewell.com/

Sam Baker HORSES & STARS

Sam Baker
Horses and Stars
Self-Released

A Comprehensive Collection of Sam Baker’s Songs, Played Live With No Safety Net.

I can’t remember exactly when I ‘got into’ Sam Baker.
It was a while ago and probably one of his regular shows at the Jumpin’ Hot Club in Newcastle, I don’t think it was via an album.
But now, like so many others I’m a bonafide acolyte of several years standing, poring over his every word and note.
Mrs. Magpie can’t stand him!
Right from the songs on his 2004 debut album Mercy, Sam deliberately sets out to challenge the listener in many ways, not least emotionally, and if you come out the other end unscathed you can count yourself a ‘fan’.
While I can’t think of one, I’m still surprised that is Sam Baker’s first ever Live Album; especially as his concerts are invariably memorable in many, many ways; and that is the case with this raw and exciting performance which finds Baker completely alone on stage in Buffalo NY in July 2018 with just his guitar, harmonica and a wood board to click the timings on as his safety net .
In fairness Baker could have opened the concert with just about any of songs and it would have been ‘nearly perfect’ so the biting lyrics that make up Boxes fits the bill perfectly.
What follows is a comprehensive collection of songs from throughout the songwriter’s relatively short career; and while the studio versions may not fit together quite so appealingly, stripped back to bone and sinew Baker draws you into songs that were written over 10 years apart like Waves and the magnificent Same Kind of Blue sound like he’s somehow plucked them both from the ether earlier in the day and is performing them for the first ever time.
In this particular format Sam Baker occasionally sounds like he must have been a Beat Poet in an earlier life, as he makes no attempt to ‘sing’ in the traditional manner; but that just makes Angel Hair and Broken Fingers even more intensely beautiful and articulate than ever.
With so many great songs to choose from across his career to fit in I can understand why they’ve had to edit out most of the applause and all of the ‘stories behind the songs’ which is a bit of a loss as they are integral to any Sam Baker show ……. would a Double Album have killed you?
Hey ho, that’s only a tiny criticism; as what is here has made choosing virtually impossible as each and every one could and should be my Favourite Track; how can I not choose Mennonite? Come on ……. Odessa? But, it’s a song for our times! Sorry, but I’m going for a song that is an essential inclusion in any Baker gig; Iron from that very first album Mercy and is sadly still as relevent today as it was way back then.
I can’t think of a better way to start your own discovery of Sam Baker and his songs than this album; if you come out the other end unscathed you are going to absolutely love his studio albums!

Released August 23rd 2019
https://www.sambakermusic.com/
https://www.sambakermusic.com/copy-of-m-e-r-c-y