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!
This end of year Top 10 Albums malarkey is proving ever more difficult…….. so far we have posted 279 reviews covering Americana, Country, Alt. Country, Cow Punk, Soul, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Blues Rock, singer-songwriters, Folk, Alt. Folk, Nu-Folk, Ska AND Reggae! Each individual album is here on it’s very own merits and we wrote about them because we liked ’em and passionately believed they needed to be heard around the world (speaking of which…….. we had visitors from 371 different countries during 2018!!! 371???? I didn’t know that there was that many!) At one stage the spreadsheet for my Top 10 featured over 50 titles; such has been the quality of releases in 2018; but after a lot of deliberation and heartache, here is my own personal Top 20 albums that were released this year and each ‘surprised or fascinated’ me when I first heard them……….. sorry if you aren’t included.
Kim Richey – Edgeland
Malcolm Holcombe – Come Hell or High Water
Big Boy Bloater – Pills
Stephen Fearing – The Secret of Climbing
Curse of Lono – As I Feel
Gem Andrews – North
Ruby Boots – Don’t Talk About It
Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy
Prosecco Socialist – Songs From Behind Bars
Kid Ramos – Old School
John Hiatt – Eclipse Sessions
Susie Vinnick – Shake The Love Around
Abe Partridge – Cotton Fields and Blood For Days
Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey to Lubbock
A Rare Story-Telling Rootsy Americana Talent in the Grand Tradition.
As Santa starts pulling on his boots in readiness for grooming the reindeer, I’m still playing ‘catch up’ with reviews from November! Some have already fallen by the wayside, but I can’t let 2018 fade away without telling you about this charming album from son of Baton Rouge Doug Schmude (rhymes with moody apparantly). For once it was a combination of the CD’s artwork and the artiste’s quirky name that drew my attention to this disc two months ago, which has led to several ‘listening sessions’ each of which has helped unfurl ever more from Shmude’s clever and intelligent songwriting. As always I judge albums by their opening track and Setting Fires on the Moon ticks every box I have; a fascinating love story sung by a warmly distinctive voice over a rather lovely melody. What’s not to like? Even Mrs. Magpie found herself tapping her toes to Silas James; but there’s so much more to this snapshot of small-town Middle America than a catchy tune. Who among us won’t have their imagination piqued by the opening lines; “His Hair was whiter as the white album, eyes as Blue as a Skip James song, he knew music like the B-Side of his hand, a song for every problem known to man!” loosely reminding me of my Favourite Song of all time, Mark Germino’s Rex Bob Lowenstein, this is one for all of us. OK it’s a bit of a fantasy song to me; but I really hope Silas James really did exist. This is followed by the darkly brooding Worry Stone which feature some delicious fiddle playing by Georgina Hennessy, and is a very clever story in a Jackson Brown kind of way. As I said at the beginning, it’s one of the songs that slowly unravel the more you hear it. One song especially fascinates me; and it’s one of those songs that make people like me with no talent at all, sit back in awe as they listen. My Daddy’s Musket is something of a historical tale about the Civil Way on the surface; but touches on many things that effect people; especially in the USA today. Congratulations all round chaps and chapesses. Mostly this is a Singer-Songwriter album that straddles the Rootsy edges of Country and the prosaic edge of Modern Folk, but there’s a rocky side to Doug Schmude too; with Salt being a moody Lo-Fi assault on the senses; and one I love to bits! The album closes with the rather delicate title track Burn These Pages, a songwriter’s song in some ways, as it feels like you are intruding on a man’s personal thoughts at times. But that’s the art of the songwriter isn’t it? I’m troubled as to what to choose for my Favourite Song; Silas James certainly has it’s merits as does the haunting Chris Knight song Enough Rope; another intense Lo-Fi rocker that’s chock full of dirty electric guitar and a story-line that Springsteen would have been proud to have written circa The River; but I’m going for the stunning El Tren de la Muerte, a thoughtful ‘Border Song’ in the mould of Tom Russell and Dave Alvin that will surely turn up on albums by Schmude’s contemporary’s in years to come. There’s a whole lot to like here on Doug Schmude’s 4th release; especially the very mature songwriting and the clever production which can be claustrophobic when necessary but also allowing room for songs to breath and slowly filter into your subconscious.
http://www.dougschmude.net/ Released 16th November 2018
We like Ryan Bingham a lot here at RMHQ, and we are looking forward to his UK visit in early 2019 a lot even if he ain’t coming to Newcastle 😦 so it’s been a blast this morning listening to the first song Wolves (especially in this acoustic format) from next year’s AMERICAN LOVE SONG album……… enjoy!
Rodney Crowell Christmas Everywhere New West Records
Not Many Ho Ho Ho’s, But Pure Quality From the Elder Statesman of Americana.
Baring in mind American music of every hue’s fascination with Christmas Albums it was intriguing to find that Rodney Crowell had never actually made one before. But, and this is hardly a ‘spoiler’ the wait has been worth it, as Americana’s favourite curmudgeon probably speaks for most of us on the assembled songs here. As his his way, we are lulled into a false sense of bonhomie with the charming and very tongue in cheek, opening song Clement’s Lament (We’ll see you in the Mall) sung by a Heavenly choir of young ladies; then Rodney enters the fray with the frantic title track, Christmas Everywhere, that lists all the commercial things his family and friends want; but with the added twist of Lera Lynn taking the part of an innocent child wishing for a ‘time machine’ to go back and take the gun away from the man who killed John Lennon. Just as you get your head around the message, Crowell comes back with another extended wish list. Clever and thought provoking message about the cynical world we live in? Most certainly…… but innocence will always win. While no Christmas Day at RMHQ would be complete without Phil Spector’s album as an accompaniment; but on the run up I do like a sad and blue Christmas song; and there are more than a few here that will make my playlist for this year and more. Christmas Makes Me Sad follows a long line of beautiful break-up songs dating back to the dawn of civilisation, I’m sure and Crowell somehow manages to keep this, and the duet with RMHQ Favourite Miss Brennen Leigh Merry Christmas From an Empty Bed just the right side of being maudlin and mawkish; as if you ever doubted his writing skills. While most songs here tread the traditional path, especially the rocking and rolling Very Merry Christmas and When The Fat Guy Tries The Chimney on For Size, there’s one in particular that caught my attention as it has an ‘old fashioned’ melody; and listening to it the second time as I read its story my eyes misted up. Crowell heard his young Granddaughters playing the family piano and asked what the tune was;and they replied it was something they’d made up…… being the canny businessman he is, he recorded it on his phone and then spent several months developing it and some worthy lyrics until it became this beautiful Christmas song. Now I’ve let the cat out of the bag; I hope he shares the royalties fairly! It’s also no real surprise that several songs deal with the state of the world we find ourselves in as 2018 comes to a conclusion; and of these songs the piercingly observed Christmas in New York, and Bluesy Shuffle, Let’s Skip Christmas This Year plus the razor-sharp Christmas In Vidor are Rodney Crowell par Excellence.
Because this album is what it is; finding a Favourite Song hasn’t been easy; as there certainly ain’t anything you will hear on Smooth Radio or in the Supermarket, but one particular song tugged at my heartstrings more than any other; and while not exactly ‘Ho Ho Ho’, All For The Little Girls and Boys finds Crowell’s daughters accompanying our hero in the early 80’s on what can only be a ‘song of hope and good cheer’ to close the record; and therefore becomes the RMHQ Favourite Track. Now he’s very much the Elder Statesmen of Americana, in many ways this is exactly the Christmas Album I’d have expected from Rodney Crowell in every note,melody and couplet and I guess I will be playing it a lot over the next few days; but put it back in it’s sleeve at tea time on the 24th of December.