Bloodshot – 13 Days of Xmas (2017)
A Fairytale of Chicago With Extra Special Presents.
Discovering Bloodshot’s compilation albums 20 years or more ago was my gateway to what is now known as Americana Music; but back then was called Insurgent Country; and I still kinda like that name.
Never shy at celebrating Public Holidays with the release of a new record; this year they have pulled an oddball collection of Bloodshot acts and assorted friends together to celebrate Christmas and it’s as cool and crazy as you’d hope and expect.
I hadn’t checked the track list the first time I played this (a sunny November morning btw!) and I would have sworn opening track O Holy Night was the Pride of Sheffield Richard Hawley; such is the dry and droll way the vocalist delivers the words; but no…..it’s actually Murder by Death; and rather beautiful in a dark manner.
Track #2 was a giveaway as soon as I heard that sexy baritone declare “I’m Papa Barrence!” Who else could it be but the one and only Barrence Whitfield and the Savages; and it’s an absolute doozy.
Brand new Bloodshot signing Ruby Boots makes her label debut with a very sexy I Slept Through Christmas; and I now can’t wait for the release of her new album in the new year.
Old Bloodshot hands Jon Langford, Ha Ha Tonka, Dex Romweber and Devil in a Woodpile all make Seasonal appearances with a variety of attitudes towards the Festivities; but it’s the newcomers that have caught my attention.
James Elkington’s Christmas Is Now Drawing Near sounds like he’s been listening to a lot of John Martyn and Nick Drake; whereas Zach Schmidt goes for Country 1:01 with I’m Drunk Again This Christmas but the biggest surprise of all is Ron Gallo doing a straight version of White Christmas albeit with a pedal-steel in the background.
There are three serious contenders for the title of Favourite Song; could it be RMHQ darlings The Yawpers with Christmas in Oblivion; an almost Lo-Fi observation on the times we live in; or is it the prison melodrama How To Make Gravy from All Our Exes Live In Texas (who I REALLY need to hear more of) or will it be the woman I’ve had a crush on for 17 years? Yup…it’s Miss Kelly Hogan and the delicate Christmas love song, Blue Snowfall.
As you’d expect with a Compilation some songs work better than others; but sometimes it’s a matter of personal taste but the best of these tracks are among the very best Christmas songs you will hear this; or any other year.
Released November 17th 2017
Matthew James and the Rust Belt Union
Impromptu Musicals For The Skeptic
Sump Pump Records
Songs For Nighthawks in a Sleazy Dive Bar.
In a week I received albums from Robert Plant and Shania Twain to review I also received an e-mail offering a disc from a a label in Des Moines (my favourite sounding American city btw) because “a member of one of their bands was a regular reader of the sight!” Guess which album excited me the most? Of course, it’s this one by Matthew James and the Rust Belt Union and even allowing for my vanity it’s a winner by any standards..
Opening track Goodbye is as a raw and sloppy slice of Alt. Country as I’ve heard in a long time; and it came across like a breath of fresh air in the Rocking Magpie Mobile last week. Apparently the song was written on the drive Matt James made when he drove from Detroit to his new home in the city of Des Moines.
Now, while I love the ‘noise’ this band makes; and ‘noise’ it is ….for the uninitiated Mr. James singing style is very reminiscent of a certain Tom Waits; a slurred growl that is quite possibly hissed out of the side of his pursed lips; but that matters not a jot to me. I just fell instantly in love with the overall auditory sensations that he and the band create.
The slower the song, Tough and It’s The Kinda Place spring to mind; the more chance you have of picking out the lyrics and the story; and it turns out that the actual lyrics are quite figurative and very, very interesting too.
I had a rye smile on my lips when I heard Enthusiastic Apathetic as James sounds exactly like Tom Waits circa Nighthawks at the Diner; only with added pedal-steel for even extra pathos.
Even the song titles are enigmatic; who among could resist a song called Dying Dogs in South Carolina or And We Went Drinking With Ed Love? And if you do dip your toe into the unknown with the latter track, you will be rewarded with some of the finest bar-room boogie you will have heard in many a year.
Sadly I disappoint myself for going for possibly the most ‘commercial’ song here for my ‘favourite track’ accolade; It’s The Kinda Place, still sounds very Waitsian; which can’t be helped when your voice sounds like ‘that’ but the song is just what I would want to hear if I stumbled on Matthew James and the Rust Belt Union playing in a bar in a bar somewhere in the dark side of town.
While I’m honoured and thrilled to receive albums by the household names I mentioned at the beginning, because it sort of validates all the long hours I put in; but it’s discovering and championing acts like Matthew James and the Rust Belt Union and the quaintly named Sump Pump Records who first contacted that the Rocking Magpie website is all about; and I think I’ve unearthed another gem.
Released 1st September 2017
Totally You Gunslinger (Single)
Grant-Lee Phillips in the guise of Grant-Lee Buffalo was one of the Gateway acts that turned me on to what was then New Country but which eventually begat Alt. Country and Americana music; so the prospect of hearing and now sharing the first track from his new WIDDERSHINS album which won’t be released until February 23rd 2018 was far too good to miss.
TOTALLY YOU GUNSLINGER conjures up the magic of the FUZZY and MIGHTY JOE MOON albums but more importantly the Jupiter & Teardrop single which is still in my Top 10 of all time.
Ethereal? Mystical? Intense? Soulful? are all words that sprang to mind the first time I heard the song and probably feel the same way two days later and now I can’t wait to hear the actual full album.
Grant-Lee Phillips talking about WIDDERSHINS……
““Widdershins…it’s an old word. Moving counterclockwise, spiralling backwards? This album begs the question, “In what direction are we moving?” – Grant-Lee Phillips
“I’m drawing from the urgency of the moment,” says the acclaimed Nashville-based singer-songwriter of Widdershins, his ninth solo album set for February 23, 2018 release on Yep Roc Records. Inspired by “the things that eat away in the late hours,” Phillips invests the insight, nuance and wit in a riveting dissection of today’s fraught social landscape.
Recorded over four days at Sound Emporium in Nashville, the 12-track set was produced by Phillips (guitar/vocals/keyboards) and cut largely live in the studio as a trio with Jerry Roe (drums) and Lex Price (bass). Mixed by Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists) and engineered by Mike Stankiewicz, the album delivers its poetic truths in Phillips’ peerless melodic sensibilities, relayed via vocal performances that balance intensity and vulnerability.
“I made a commitment to myself not to sink into despair,” explains Phillips, “I’m tracing a longer narrative here. We’ve been through some of this before – not just our country, but the civilisation as a whole.” Phillips sees in Widdershins a connection to his earliest work with Grant Lee Buffalo. “That was also a time of intense social anxiety. The Gulf War, the LA riots – everything became cranked up. Then a few years later there was the earthquake we lived through, which also made for a time of uneasiness. I was in a heightened state when I wrote that stuff – as I am now.”
THE NASHVILLE SOUND
AT LAST! Some kind of ‘mix up’ meant we didn’t receive this album around the release date; but that wrong has recently been rectified so we sent it off to our mate Tony Pearce to hear what he thought about…..now that the hype has slowed down.
Isbell’s sixth studio album means he’s way past the ‘tricky’ second album syndrome. Produced by man of the moment Dave Cobb, who was also responsible for Southeastern and Something More Than Free, so you know we’re on a winning formula here. Isbell is joined by Jimbo Hart-bass, Chad Gamble on drums, Derry Deborja keyboards, Sadler Vaden electric guitar and of course his wife, Amanda Shires on violin and vocals.
If We Were Vampires, the track that has already had a lot of early airplay and exposure, is as good a duet as you’re likely to hear this year and is going to fit right in on future set-lists. As with many a good Isbell song, the chorus isn’t straightforward “I love you, you love me”, on If We Were Vampires it’s more “Likely one of us will have to stand some days alone” we all know it’s coming in a relationship, and he just lays it on the line early on. If that doesn’t let you know that nothing is forever “Maybe we’ll get 40 years together/ but one day I’ll be gone/ one day you’ll be gone” confirms the fact.
Last Of My Kind kicks off the album and it’s a bit of a departure from the Something More Than Free where the mood was one of grown up regrets mixed with optimism, of acceptance, of what he’s become. On Last of My Kind the mood is definitely back to the more sombre one we associate with Isbell. Now he’s wondering why college is hard. Why they have differing views from him of what’s important, he wonders why they have poor rhythm and they can’t believe the clothes he wears! Anxiety lets you know from the off where it’s at.
Bombastic chords and an opening line that sounds more than a little like a re hash of Yesterday.
If the last album looked at what he’s gained and had a definitely positive vibe about it, Anxiety drops that mood completely, “I’m out here living in a fantasy/ I can’t enjoy a god-damn thing”. This isn’t the serious mood of say, Elephant or Cover Me, neither of which are likely to raise a smile but Anxiety does feel as though it is going to spoil the pace of the album and at 7 minutes that’s a lot of doom and gloom.
I guess after the unbridled success he’s had since leaving the Drive By truckers we’ve come to expect so much of the Alabama native, but having caught at least one of the shows on the recent tour some of the more challenging songs on the album work better live.
Released June 16th 2017
THIS SWEET OLD WORLD (Re-Visited)
Highway 20/Thirty Tigers
Great Songwriting Never Goes Out of Fashion.
As so many other music lovers did, I first discovered Lucinda Williams with her Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album in 1998ish, which actually followed THIS SWEET OLD WORLD albeit 6 years later, so it’s a fascinating challenge to listen to Lucinda’s re-recording of a 25 year old album that I’ve never heard before.
So, with only a nod to the past I will treat this as a brand new release with only a couple of nods to the past and wait patiently for the pedants to rise from the shadows and explain in tedious detail why the original versions were ‘better.’
Track #1 Six Blocks Away must have sounded amazing when listeners first heard it in 1992, because it still sounds fresh and electric today as Lucinda drily sings about a part-timer lover in her inimitable style while a Roger McGuinn/Tom Petty guitarist weaves in and out behind her.
The first song I recognised enters the fray at #4, Memphis Pearl is a staple of Lucinda’s concerts and this delicate arrangement adds more pathos to an already sad song than I ever would have expected.
For me, there are pleasant and often beautiful surprises around every corner, with songs like Sidewalks of the City, Which Will and especially the title track Sweet Old World sounding as if they had been written around the time that Lucinda’s last album Ghosts of Highway 20 was released; not twenty odd years before it, such is the intricacy of Lucinda’s songwriting and storytelling; but I suppose the new arrangements may give the songs that extra touch of sorrow; but whichever way you feel…..they are absolutely beautiful songs.
One of my favourite songs I’ve heard Lucinda sing in concert (and on the Fillmore album) is here; and this version of Pineola is stunning from start to finish; with the band sounding spellbinding and even frightening behind her as she puts the Alt into Alt. Country.
There are four Bonus Tracks here, and Lucinda being Lucinda has also re-recorded these as they were from the original sessions too; and I can’t tell you how good Factory Blues and Dark Side of Life are, as they fit in perfectly with everything I’ve heard from Lucinda in the last twenty years and it would have been such a shame if they’d been left in the vaults.
But, none of those take the title of ‘RMHQ Favourite Track’ …..that accolade goes to another song I’d not heard before and one that took my breath away the first four times I heard it and may again the next…..Little Angel/Little Brother is as good a song as I’ve ever heard Lucinda Williams sing and the arrangement is as simple, raw and awe-inspiring as the words themselves; and the singer sounds like she could breakdown at any moment, but thankfully doesn’t.
Although this record didn’t attract the attention of the Chart Compilers when it was first released, it’s easy to see, with 25 years hindsight the direction Ms Williams was headed, even though very few others were in 1992; and the world is a much better place for her being in it…..as this forgottan classic proves.
Released September 29th 2017
POSTCARDS from MAGDALENA
At The Helm Records
Glacier Cool Americana Songs of Love, Loss and Heartache.
WOW….Where does the time go? It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since we were fawning over Jeff Crosby’s last release WAKING DAYS but that was a whole two years ago; and it appears that the hirsute songwriter hasn’t been sitting around twiddling his thumbs, as these 10 brand new songs were written ‘on the road’ and apparently in some pretty obscure towns around the world.
Such is the life of the modern troubadour.
That Californian-Americana ‘sound’ which defined WAKING DAYS is still there in the bittersweet opening track Best $25 I Ever Spent; although this song was written in Taganga, Magdalena Columbia about the unrequited love of a ‘hippie girl who loved the beach and smoking joints….and dancing in the rain.’
While there is an undoubted Laurel Canyon ‘feel’ to Crosby’s songs; his words and stories are invariably darker and more sensitive than I remember; but it was a long time ago.
Without having a lyric sheet to crib from; Beautiful & Strange reminds me of the poetry of Thomas Hardy; but set to a West Coast melody and a searing guitar.
It’s never easy for a fella that looks like me to sympathise with a good looking guy like Jeff; but listening to Hearts Too Heavy and Cold Summer he sounds like he’s had more than his fair share of heartbreak; but that’s why he’s such a good songwriter, both of these songs sound like they could have been written about episodes in my own life. Clever that.
On a couple of track Crosby Turns Left at the Alt. Country/Americana intersection; with It’s Us having an intense and almost Indie sensibility to it; although there is still the obligatory steel guitar thread running through the middle; and on Sunrise Over Iceland (For Lois) the stark story is pure Damn Country; but not like any other Country song I can think of.
There is something really special about the way Jeff Crosby uses the English language, especially metaphors and couplets and boy does he know how to add a melody too.
Favourite track? It has to be Hotel Bibles, which closes proceedings and has Crosby sat alone with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a broken heart. His description of the damaged relationship is desperately told in poetic lines like, “like an old tattoo/the definition faded” and “like hotel bibles/with torn out pages,” and when that harmonica wails…..so will you.
In my previous review I described Jeff Crosby as an ‘Americana Diamond’ and I stand by that description; but this time he proves himself to be a flawed diamond……but he can describe those most intimate and personal of stories better than most.
Released October 27th 2017
RHYTHM OF THE RAIN
White Wolf Records
Mmmmmm, Smokey and Sultry Songs of Love, Life and Grief.
Sometimes it’s difficult to put into words why you like a particular singer or band; but with Amelia White her voice tugged at my very heartstrings the first time I heard it 5 or 6 years ago; and the stories she tells and the way she sings them makes me go weak at the knees every time they come out of the office Hi-Fi.
RHYTHM OF THE RAIN is Amelia’s 8th album in nearly twenty years and ( #SpoilerAlert ) is by far her most mature and probably the best I’ve heard.
The intro to opening track Little Cloud Over Little Rock sounds like a cool Indie Alt. Country band is about to kick in; them Amelia’s haunting and slightly smokey voice filters out of the speakers and a whole new aura envelopes the proceedings.
The story is full of intimate detail you’d normally associate with writers like Dylan and Joni or maybe Springsteen; not someone you’ve probably never heard of before. The character in the song has ‘dyed black hair and ear feather rings/she’s gotta put three kids through school/she’s sipping on the sly/to keep her cool’…..see what I mean? And it’s got a cool melody too.
Songs like Sinking Sun and Yuma probably sum up my feelings about Amelia White best; not quite Southern Gothic, but pretty damn close and with a swampy Country feel to them too; sort of as if Bobbie Gentry was singing her saddest songs with Creedence backing her.
There are Love Songs here aplenty; but not the ‘Moon in June’ type; these are dark and mysterious; the type you find later in life……listen to Sugar Baby and Supernova without getting a shiver down your back, and you are a stronger person than I am.
If this is your type of music; and I presume it is if you are still reading this far; you will absolutely love the title track Rhythm of the Rain; and my personal ‘favourite’ song here…….Let The Wind Blow, which closes the proceedings. In theory a simple enough song until you listen a second time, and even more intently the third and fourth times as a gorgeous story unfolds and unravels like a magical fairytale.
While these songs were written long before Amelia went into the studio; but when you realise that this album was written in the four short days between her Mother’s funeral and her own wedding; you will find an extra special spirituality in the way she delivers these beautiful songs.
Released October 27th 2017
Sonic Unyon Records
It’s Canadian Rock n Roll and I LOVE IT!
Even if I hadn’t already been a fan of this feisty Canadian Rocker; the artwork on the CD cover would have caught my attention in a Record Shop; and if the man behind the counter was kind enough to play the first track Paradise as a ‘sample’ I would gladly have passed a £10 note across the counter.
Ms. Lightfoot’s voice is a dominant as ever; straddling Memphis Soul and Urban Blues with ease; and boy…..can she write a song.
The ‘band shot’ on the back cover hints at the dichotomy Terra Lightfoot’s music poses; she’s a pretty young woman in a Summer dress but playing a striking electric guitar……and when you hear her; she can really play that machine as well as the Big Boys; but it’s her singing and songwriting that I’m smitten with.
This album is littered with classy Rockers out of the Bonnie Raitt/Chrissie Hynde Book of Rock, like Slick Back Kid and Stars Over Dakota to name check but two; but Terra also shows her Soulful and softer side on the beautifully delicate Lonesome Eyes and the intimate Three In The Morning.
As big fan of her previous album I was thrilled to hear a clever change in direction with the haunting story of single Mother Norma Gale; a Country Bass player in the 1970’s.
These days I’m never sure where Country Rock ends and Alt. Country begins; but id does it really matter when you hear classy songs like Ruthless and the single Paradise, as both are actually genre defying in the way they can only be Terra Lightfoot songs.
Hmmmm…..where do I go for my ‘favourite track’? The silky smooth Lonesome Eyes or the epic Two Hearts or the heart-pounding Rocker Pinball King? Hey, call me crazy but I’m going for the latter as when I played the album in the car I accidentally found myself going at 90mph when it came on!
Yet again I’ve fallen in love with a Terra Lightfoot album and can’t get my head around why someone with such a great voice and guitar skills fronting a red hot band; featuring a super-smooth keyboard player isn’t filling Concert Halls around the world; but that’s the world I live in; but you can share our secret too.
Released October 13th 2017
SAME AS I EVER HAVE BEEN
Black Hen Music
Southern Soul and Gritty Americana From Arcadian Canada.
My trusty I-Phone has done it again! As I was driving home from work late last Wednesday a beautifully sad and soulful song randomly purred from the car speakers and I had to immediately press ‘repeat’ as soon as it finished; then sat listening to the final minute on my drive as the song played for the fourth time in twenty minutes, before going into the house.
At this stage I won’t say what that song actually was; as it takes on ‘favourite track’ status further down the page.
The following day I quickly cleared my to-do list and settled back to listen to the rest of Matt Patershuk’s third album.
Even before I heard the cranky guitar and Matt’s world weary drawl, I knew I was going to love any song called Sometimes You’ve Got To Do Bad Things, To Do Good; and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. For a Canadian in a Cowboy hat; Patershuk gives a Southern Soul feel to this sweet, sweet Country pearl, and that goes for the majority of what is to follow too.
Recorded in Superstar Bryan Adam’s Vancouver studio; Steve Dawson’s production is flawless from start to finish, even managing to give an authentic ‘first take’ rawness to songs like Cheap Guitar and the effervescent Hot Knuckle Blues.
I still find it funny that Canadians are writing and recording some of the finest Americana music that I hear these days; as the slow and Good Luck proves in spades; and Atlas couldn’t have come from anywhere other than the American Rust Belt, could it? But it certainly does…….Rural Alberta to be precise.
Patershuk’s songwriting and storytelling is quite extraordinary at times with the Country-Funk of Blank Pages and Lost Wages and the waltz-like title track Same As I Ever Have Been being prime examples; but you could throw a dart at the track list and hit a doozy of a song.
Which all brings us to ‘that song’ that first caught my attention; Swans, which actually closes the disc. Regular readers know that I’m a sucker for a Love Song and this one came to me not long after Don Williams died; and could be the best song that ‘the Gentle Giant never wrote.’ A pair of endearing worn and sad voices coupled to an acoustic guitar you can barely hear make for six short minutes of perfection.
Subsequently there’s been another contender for that prestigious title; Memory And The First Law of Thermodynamics may be an absurd title; but the intricate and delicate story, about and dedicated to his late sister Clare is straight from the Guy Clark songbook and will surely bring a tear to a glass eye.
Discoveries like this is the reason I spend far too much time listening to albums by people I and you have never previously heard of, but deserve a huge world wide audience, when their music is as good….nay, great as this collection is.
Released in Canada October 6th 2017
Released to the World October 27th 2017
Blue Eyed Boy
#Buford Pope’s 2015 release The Poem and the Rose was a big hit at RMHQ and when our latest Guest Reviewer Tony Pearce saw BLUE EYED BOY on the ‘to do’ pile he asked to take it to our secret hideaway in the Mediterranean where he could give it the time to listen that it deserves.
Here’s his words………….
Blue Eyed Boy is the seventh album by Buford Pope. Feel you should have heard of him? Well don’t feel too bad. Buford a.k.a Mikael Liljeborg is a 46yr old from Sweden. Not even mainland Sweden, by the way but a little island in the Baltic Sea called Gotland. There must be something about the air over there; as I’ve been listening to another Swedish resident, The Country Side of Harmonica Sam who harken successfully back to a Honky Tonk style from the ‘50’s. I missed catching them at The Nashville Palace by a couple of days recently; but they tore the place up apparently.
His bio will tell you that he discovered Dylan at an early age (15) and went on to discover Neil Young, Jackson Brown, Springsteen etc. while developing a high-pitched singing voice.
Still Got Dreams opens the album and straight away sets the tone. There’s a lot talked about New Country which doesn’t always sound like country, this does. It’s not your Granddad’s Yee-Haw Country either. This is a glorious mix of pedal steel, accordion, mandolin and country guitar……and ‘that’ voice.
No Man’s Land is medium paced echoing one of his influences, Neil Young; and it’s Mr Young that his voice reminds you of most often. Not enough that you could accuse him of copying, just every now and again you catch yourself thinking ‘who does he remind me of’? It’s a song of struggle and pain but never doomy.
Infirmary is a ballad with some clever lines “…so I could look at the moon/I want to leave/but death seems to miss this room”.
Freewheelin’ feels like a natural single, Up tempo with an instantly hummable chorus, it’s a song about finding some kind of release in drinking. This has been on repeat for the last couple of days. In fact, considering some of the songs began life up to 10 years ago, they all run one into the next without any obvious clunkers.
Occasionally you detect a bit of Mr Zimmerman in the vocals too, but like the earlier comparison certainly not enough to distract you.
Hard Land is pure blue-collar Springsteen albeit with a more Band-style instrumentation than a full-on Boss rocker, as Pope fills out the sound with banjo and mandolin. It’s easy to see how his version of Americana has spread across Europe and into England.
Bloodline has more echoes of The Band. More in accompaniment and melody rather than a direct copy of their songs. Given that there’s not too many people capable of carrying that off these days, I can easily put up with the odd track like that.
The Baltic Sea is in a similar vein to Freewheelin’ in that he knows how to build a catchy chorus off the back of a melody you will want to hear again. Once he gets to touring the UK and possibly USA, the name of Buford Pope won’t make you think of an Appalachian farm boy.
RMHQ Guest Reviewer Tony Pearce.
Released 22nd September 2017.