TWO SIDES TO THIS TOWN
The Best Kick-Ass Heartbreakin’ Alt. Country Rock LA Has To Offer.
Obviously I can’t know everyone on the Americana scene; that would just be silly; but I do like to think I have my finger on the button; yet somewhere along the line I’ve totally missed multi-Award winning Bobo Byrnes in any of his guises be it solo or as part of Riddle of the Stars, The Fallenstars or The Brown Coats; all of whom sound like I’d love ’em!
Hey ho; on to Bobo’s latest solo effort which appears to be a reworking of some of his songs with the Fallenstars and the reason that I’m giddy with excitement.
It was the complex guitar lick that opens first song Angelia that first caught my ear; and when the band drop a musical time bomb after about thirty seconds I just knew this was going to be a doozy of a record.
Yup I can tell that quickly.
Angelia is an atypical Blue Collar Small Town Country/Americana love song about “driving to those high tension lines/where the night sky is so fine/Angelia/I want to dream with you tonight”.
OK Bruce trademarked such songs many years ago; but Byrnes and band do it so damn well and from the very bottom of the heart, you just know he’s not heard The River or if he did it was when his Dad’s played it.
Then up pops the dreamy Heart Like Mine; sung with a slight rasp to the throat and with bass player Mrs Tracy Byrnes adding extra pathos with her harmonies you just just know in your heart Mr Byrnes wrote this one long and lonely night in a cheap motel 100’s of miles from the love of his life.
For a solo-album Byrnes makes a mighty big noise on a few songs, which would have been Country Rock a few years ago but are probably Alt. Country or should that be Ameripolitan these days?
When I first heard the poignant Welfare Cadillac and the absolutely fizzing Summer Wine I did not just imagine Byrnes playing them live; but what the videos should look like as the notes and words filled the room.
I hear plenty of ‘good’ music by writers who use a ‘formula’ and there’s nothing wrong with that; but sometimes I hear songs where the writer just had to get the words down on paper without a thought or a care in the world regardless of the outcome; Vegas which closes the record is just such a song, from the heart and to the heart.
With six and a half of the songs here from his own pen (or I-Pad?) Byrnes roves himself to be quite the songwriter; but his rendering of the kick-ass Glad by Tracey Huffman, Matthew Ryan’s Dam and more importantly Chris Knight’s Jealous Kind show what great taste he has and a clever musical brain too.
But it’s his own songs that have impressed me the most with two fighting for the top spot of Favourite Track; will it be the laid back and reflective Last Hurrah or the left of centre Massachusetts where he actually duets with Tracey? Hmmmm; not easy but I’m going for the latter which again conjures up not just memories of Bruce when he was cool but guys like Robbie Fulks too.
Plus; as a collector of great couplets, who among you isn’t impressed with “Back in College when we were DJs/Elvis was Costello and whenever we played Red Shoes/we danced the night away!” Come on; maybe it’s an age thing but to me Elvis IS Costello too.
Not for the first nor I guess last time this year I’ve made another amazing discovery and now can’t wait to shout the name BOBO BYRNES (and Tracy Byrnes!) from the RMHQ Rooftop……..you gonna love this album.
Trust me; I know.
released April 08th 2018
ONE LAST KISS
Growling Moon Music
Soundtrack For A Hot August Night in a Tennessee Backwater.
It’s fascinating what music can do for a person; be they a listener like you or I but actual musicians themselves; as it seems that the ‘power of music’ has been a golden thread in RJ Comer’s life be it his time as a violent addict or later after cleaning himself up and discovering God; as an attorney……music got him through some dark times.
Now, many years later he’s a full time singer-songwriter living in the Tennessee woods making music and occasionally touring the United States , North, South, East and West to popular acclaim it has to be said.
The rather snappy Under a Lover’s Moon opens proceedings with some neat fiddle and guitar interjections complimenting RJ’s rich and expressive baritone voice. The song itself is one of the few love songs I’ve heard recently which is written and about a genuine couple of mature years who actually seem to like each other; which gives it an extra star at RMHQ.
Obviously not everything is as upbeat as that opener; but that’s not to say that the songs from the darker edges of life; House Grown Cold and Still Doin’ Time spring to mind don’t have a brittle beauty to them too; as they do.
After playing in bar bands for many years, it’s obvious RJ Comer can turn his hand to most genres of popular music; but he generally sticks to the Country-Blues format I normally associate with Townes, Guy and Rodney; but he’s got a lot more strings to his bow than that as Desert Mama and If I Could Be Water prove; with something of an early Neil Diamond ‘feel’ to them at times.
Like all the great singer-songwriter’s Comer digs deep into the darkest corners of his memories for his songs and comes out the other end with such raw delights as Bad Day in Paradise and You’d Drink Like I Do which are both perfect for the wee small hours of the morning when you feel that the whole world is against you……and it might be; but RJ Comer let’s you know you aren’t alone.
The record closes with the title track ONE LAST KISS; a sad old tale with a truly mournful fiddle accompaniment about the singer’s father but could easily be interpreted by any of us to describe many relationships that have haunted us too.
Hmmmm; where to go for a Favourite Song’? There have been a few contenders; not least the first and last tracks and more than once I’ve played Let’s Run on repeat several times, but I’m going out on a limb with the nigh on Gothic Cain’s Blood, which not only describes Comer’s life that straddled good and evil in equal quantities; but again this is the mark of a great songwriter; could describe most of us and not least myself over the years, which is quite some achievement.
I love music in many formats which is why I do what I do with this website; and every now and again a really rare talent comes along like RJ Comer; and if he’s not too old to grasp the nettle…….he could and should be a Major Star in the Americana world if there is any justice.
Or he may just enjoy his anonymity living with his wife in that Tennessee backwater; and who can blame him?
Released 15th June 2018
Felix Holt & The Radicals
THE NEXT BIG NOBODY
Maiden Voyage Recording Company
Authentic, Melodious and Cool West Coast Country From North London
There’s plenty much to like here right from the get go; not least the album sleeve which when folded out reveals a glorious mono photo of young Mr Holt atop some London rooftops and chimneys.
Then there is the laid back and self-depreciating opening track which doubles as the title track…..The Next Big Nobody. Obviously intended to raise a rye smile; but Holt’s opus is not just a slight on the record industry but perhaps even a sad look at his love life.
For a native of London Town, Felix Holt has a delightfully authentic West Coast sound; and can write a really smart song that could easily come from Laurel Canyon any time in the last 40 years; I’m particularly thinking Buffalo 66 (True Love) and Off The Rails here; but there’s more than a hint of that Country hybrid that Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds created too in Only Then and So It May Live Again.
OK it’s probably unfair and raising expectations too high using those comparisons; but it’s done Sam Outlaw and Whitney Rose no harm lately has it?
If you are under 25 and those names mean nothing to you; and why should they? Felix Holt & The Radicals have a lovely laid-back style Country and this is why I’ve fallen in love with this record already; and I know it’s not ‘trendy’ amongst the hipster generation. but he/they aren’t afraid to use a melody…..in fact they positively embrace them in Ride On By, So It May Live Again and Only Then which all have harmonies and said melodies so luscious you could drown in them.
While obviously influenced heavily by Country Music of bygone ages THE NEXT BIG NOBODY has a gloriously modern and contemporary Alt. Country feel to it too; especially Loving Kind which closes the disc nicely and the RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’ the bitter sweet love song Now That It’s Gone; which really does show not just a songwriter at the top of his game; but a band who love what they are doing do too.
It’s kind of ironic that just like in America; Felix Holt’s cool brand of Country Music is probably too authentic and ‘on the money’ for him to ride the coat tails of the burgeoning British Country Music movement or even the Americana scene which has a lot of Folk singers masquerading as Country Acts in it.
No sirree; Felix Holt & The Radicals are the Real Deal in every sense of the expression and deserve the acclaim that acts this good deserve….all around the world; which is bigger than London Town.
Released 8th June 2018
Tony Wright & Ryan Hamilton
Oh Lonesome Me (single)
This might sound silly but Brit-Rockers Terrorvision were a bit of a ‘guilty pleasure’ here at RMHQ, so hearing singer Tony Wright had got together with a Texas rocker called Ryan Hamilton who grew up on country greats really tickled our taste buds.
Together they are releasing a cool album called ‘Grand Ole Otley’, as it’s an album of country songs re-worked in their unique style,and comes out June 8th.
Here’s the #1 single ‘Oh Lonesome Me’
Susan Cattaneo & The Bottle Rockets
WORK HARD, LOVE HARDER (single)
Wow, last August I introduced you to Susan Cattaneo with her fabulous double album The Hammer and The Heart https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/susan-cattaneo-the-hammer-the-heart/ and now a year or so later she has re-recorded one of the key tracks and produced a video with RMHQ favourites The Bottle Rockets.
Turn on, tune in…..enjoy.
John Wesley Harding
GREATEST OTHER PEOPLE’S HITS
Imaginative and Intriguing Set of Covers From Roots-Rock’s Renaissance Man.
Here we go again; I was sure I had at least one album by John Wesley Harding aka Wesley Stace; but it appears not as all I could find was a dusty copy of the *album Bob Dylan made in his honour in 1967.
So it’s been something of a musical joyride in a stolen car, that I’ve been playing this album of cover versions and collaborations by Root’s Musics favourite Renaissance Man, recorded over the last thirty or so years.
With not a lot to go on the first few seconds of opening track, Roky Erickson’s If You Have Ghosts scared me; as the feedbacky sound effects made me think I was entering some kind of Pink Floyd Meddle territory; but hey…..NO…..we actually get a really cool, almost Indie inspired Alt. Something, few minutes that made my chest tighten with delight.
As there are 29 years between the first and last song recorded here; coupled to Harding’s abstract collaborations mean the mood, tempo and even style jump around like a cat on a hot tin roof; but it also shows what an inspired and inspirational artiste this guy is.
I don’t know all of the bands and singers JWH joins up with but Star (with Fastball) is another tightly wrapped Indie doozy; and his version of Phil Ochs’ Another Age is almost Beatlesesque circa Revolver, but it’s his heart shredding ‘folk’ songs that initially captured my attention with Covered Up In Ages (with and by Elizabeth Barraclough) making me raise my eyebrows in amazement and the previously unreleased Old Bourbon with Rick Moody (?) was an early contender for ‘Favourite Track’ status as the vocals remind me a bit of Liverpool legend Ian McNabb, of whom I’m a fanboy.
The clever way Harding has constructed the album means that just as you think you are getting a handle on him; he throws a curve ball of **Sandy Koufax proportions. The Hip-Hop version of Serge Gainsbourg’s Je Suis Ventu Te Dire Que Je M’en Vais anyone? In this context alongside George Harrison’s Wah Wah kind of works; but I can comfortably go the rest of my life without hearing either again.
WH has some very famous mates; starting with Lou Reed; yep you heard me right…..there are two of his songs here Think It Over is another previously unreleased track; and quite beautiful in the way he sings it over primarily a 12 string guitar and organ; and that didn’t prepare me for the collaboration with Laughing Lou which follows; a live and raw version of Satellite of Love that may even have been what Lou had in mind when he first recorded it all of those years ago.
His other ‘famous mate’ is the one that will probably get this album coverage in all the National papers and website.
Early on Harding strips back and adds a violin to Jackson Cage making it almost Alt. Country and even a bit of a romantic tear jerker; but later I was taken aback when Bruce’s own distinctive voice joined John on an intimate version of Wreck on the Highway. Intriguingly it’s mixed from a soundboard and an audience member’s tape at a McCabe’s Guitar Shop show in 2000.
The song that first brought JWH to the public’s attention is here too and, yes I can certainly enjoy hearing him strip Madonna’s Like a Prayer back to the bone and sinews over and over again. It’s absolutely stunning.
So, after all of that hyperbole what could possibly top rare Bruce and Lou collaborations or the Madonna and Elizabeth Barraclough songs?
Well; it’s a song I already possess and one of my favourite ever Bloodshot recordings; Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe which finds JWH trying to keep up with the only woman I would leave Mrs Magpie for; Miss Kelly Hogan.
John Wesley Harding sounds quite excellent here; but hearing Kelly’s beautiful tones swoop and soar as a gentle guitar, mandolin and accordion drift along in the background will bring a tear to a glass eye.
While the songs here are varied and even contrary at times; there’s certainly been enough for me to want to dip into John Wesley Harding’s 20+ back catalogue to hear his own work; and I presume his legion of fans will love this release ‘just because.’
PS 10 of these tracks were originally released as Record Day ‘only’ on April 21st 2018; but such was demand a further 7 have been added for this more commercial release.
*That’s a joke btw!
** I Googled him to make my metaphor fit.
Released 18th May 2018
Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis
WILD, WILD, WILD
Hey, hey, hey you crazy kids! Check this rascal out……a rip snorting collaboration between two of our favourites……. Mr Robbie Fulks and the delectable Linda Gail Lewis (the star of TWO SummerTyne Festivals) on Bloodshot Records; and a forerunner to a whole album on August 10th.
“The album Wild! Wild! Wild! was recorded in Chicago with Alex Hall (JD McPherson, Cactus Blossoms, Pokey LaFarge) and features musical contributions from Redd Volkaert (Merle Haggard), Danny B. Harvey, Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough (NRBQ, The Flat Five), Kelly Hogan (Mavis Staples, Neko Case), Joan Collaso, Yvonne Gage, and others.”
I don’t know about you…….but I can’t wait!
Jeb Barry & The Pawn Shop Saints
Dolly Rocker Recordings.
Slightly Dark Yet Starkly Beautiful Alt. Country Deluxe.
DAMN……mostly because this is a Double album it’s sat unloved in the ‘to do’ box for several weeks, until yesterday when my trusty I-Phone played opening track Trouble Down in Tennessee and I had to take a sharp intake of breath, waiting to see who the artist was on the car stereo. Jeb Barry? Who he?
Currently residing in the hills of New England, the one time ‘nearly Pop Star’ Jeb Barry is a singer-songwriter in the proud traditions of Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and more importantly, RMHQ Favourite Slaid Cleaves; but sounds nothing like any of them.
This release is a Double Album primarily because not only is Barry a prolific songwriter but can comfortably deliver them as raw intimate solo efforts (the second disc) or better still as atmospheric and carefully constructed Alt. Country minor epics alongside his bandmates.
Let’s scoot back to that first song Trouble Down in Tennessee; and it’s opening line “Had a little trouble down in Tennessee/Load a whisky and a girl who didn’t love me.” Coupled to a rip-cord tight band and a sloppy Dobro…….; and the song only gets deeper and better the longer it goes on. That is the Alternative to Country I adore.
As you’d expect most of the songs here are heartbreakers, tearjerkers and bar-room ballads; and boy oh boy can Jeb Barry tell a story…….Galveston ’92 and Southern Oak are pretty much as good as this genre gets.
Miss Mississippi is the type of fascinating song that you thought only Steve Earle could write twenty odd years ago; but Jeb picks up that uber-detailed mantle and runs off into the distance with it; taking the listener on a journey through the dive bars and Honky-Tonks trying to re-live that magical night.
Chainsmoker is a fascinating choice of metaphor for the loser in a break up; but again Barry effortlessly tugs at the heartstrings until you choke back the tears; and that deadpan jangly guitar won’t help your cause either.
While the album title is Texas Etc. it could and should be Gravel Roads and Whiskey Bars, which follows and is very much the musical cornerstone to Album #1 and probably the whole kit and caboodle; as it is the essence of Jeb Barry’s songwriting all rolled into three short minutes and giving Sturgill Simpson a good run for his money.
Album #2 is a slightly darker affair, opening with the starkly beautiful A Little Mercy; which possibly finds Barry at his poetic best; and Michael O’Neill’s delicate mandolin playing alongside Barry’s soft guitar is quite spellbinding, by the way.
At times like this I find it weird to say that there’s not a bad song here; honestly there’s no filler here at all as every single song is here on merit.
In I Can’t Live In Houston Anymore, somehow Jeb manages to make this major metropolis sound like a Hick town in the back of beyond; but I guess unrequited love can get you like that can’t it?
That theme reappears on El Paso Sucks which took me back 45 years to a similar end to a relationship I experienced in my teens and had more or less forgot about; but that’s the beauty of classy songwriting isn’t it?
Where do I go for a favourite track? I’m damn sure I need to play this album a lot more to get the very best from it; but today I’m going for the majestic If This Heart Had Walls from Album #1 and either….no……I must be brave…….choose one for God’s Sake! OK……the stunning duet with Heather Austin, It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time is ‘that song’ that will haunt everyone who ever hears it, as the intimate detail in every single line while remind you of something in your own life; albeit the past but hopefully not the present……but it really is a Country Heartbreaker Deluxe.
There is one more song deserving of a mention; but one that stands apart from the crowd; Refugees is normally sung at the end of the night as a group effort; most regularly alongside a group of friends that includes Sarah Lee Guthrie but here Jeb Barry resurrects that Greenwich Village 1960’s spirit on a tragically beautiful song that suggests every single American citizen is actually a refugee in one form or another and should be a lot more tolerant to those seeking refuge in ‘the Land of the Free’ in the 21st Century.
Released April 27th 2018
Sarana VerLin & Billy Brandt
ARE YOU LISTENING?
An Alt-Country/Alt. Folk Soundtrack to the Third Summer of Love.
As they say in their Press Release “This pairing shouldn’t work……but it does.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Sarana was a child prodigy Classical violinist who discovered Rock Music in her late teens and Billy was the Merch guy for .38 Special who wrote his own acoustic songs while travelling the world in the bands’ truck then singing them to and with the backing singers in Motel bedrooms; before giving that life up to move back to Detroit where he became a ‘go to’ guy for local and visiting bands.
How they got together is shrouded in mystery; but I’m mighty glad this odd couple did.
Never trusting Press Releases I let the music do the talking and got a very pleasant surprise with the opening track Ophelia (I Walked Away) as Sarana’s warm and clear vocals take centre stage on a Folk Rocker that owes more to British bands like Fairport Convention and River City People than any of the American Alt. Bands I expected to hear; yet Brandt’s distinctive guitar playing is Alt. Country through and through.
That slinky low slung guitar weaves its way through the cinematic second song Judgement Day; and this time it’s Brandt who takes lead vocals and memories of not just Buffalo Springfield but Whiskeytown instantly sprang to mind; although the duo actually sound nothing like either.
The couple more or less take turns throughout on lead, with the other proving the perfect foil on harmonies with Sailing Away (Port 1 & 2) featuring some very fine guitar playing, that Tom Petty would have been proud to produce and on I Wish I Knew the guitarist goes acoustic as Sarana delicately delivers a beautiful love song. that will break your heart.
The oddest thing here is actually Sarana’s violin playing which is majestically understated throughout; but on No Such Thing as Goodbye and Everything’s Falling when it seamlessly glides in you know you are in the company of an expert player; yet neither she nor Billy ever allow their dextrous playing to overshadow the power and intensity of their songs and stories.
The title track Are You Listening? closes the album and the couple’s unusual musical influences all come together on an almost Psychedelic Alt. Folk song that conjures up images of Sarana in a floaty dress dancing around candles as Brandt transcends himself into Richard Thompson-George Harrison hybrid.
My favourite track here is another left field Alt. Something mixture, with Sarana again taking lead on the multi-layered Ghost of My Love; another delightful Folk-Rocker Deluxe that has me tapping my toes again, as I type these words and just may be the Soundtrack to the Third Summer of Love.
Released March 23rd 2018
Velvet Covered Country-Soul with a Barbed Centre For the Lonely and Lovelorn.
I’m not even sure if he’s ever played in the NE of the UK but Luke Winslow-King is one of the few RMHQ Favourites that we have still to see playing live; and that’s a list of three now Leonard Cohen has died.
Anyway, onto his latest album Blue Mesa which has been on and off the ‘metaphorical’ Office Record Player for a couple of months now; often working as something of a ‘pallet cleanser’ in between lonesome singer-songwriters and feisty Blues bands; but because of work commitments is only getting reviewed on its day of release…..sorry guys.
When you are about to slide the shiny disc into your player you only have two choices to make before pressing play; and they depend on the time of day because to get the best out of this album you need to kick back and a) keep the coffee coming or b) sip something long, smooth and alcoholic……it’s that type of album.
Opening track You Got Mine finds Luke smoothly criss-crossing Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak territory with ease on a breathtaking ballad that rolls around some magnificent organ playing from Mike Lynch and a couple of searing guitar solos from long time collaborator Roberto Luti.
Track #2 Leghorn Woman picks the pace up to ‘stroll and strut’ as that Winslow-King ‘signature sound’ oozes out of the speakers like warm molasses looking for some crackers.
The dark and brooding Better For Knowing You is possibly a ‘bittersweet ‘ love song, but with the emphasis very firmly on ‘love’ as Luke looks back on a lost love with some exceptionally sincere ‘regret’ that will touch every listener’s heart, and make us think back to similar feelings that we couldn’t articulate in such a delicate and honest manner at the time.
When called upon Luke and friends can rock the socks of a song too, as Thought I Heard You proves, which has the organ a’weeping and a’wailing as twin electric guitars sound like a battle between warring Allman relatives; but that’s followed by the divine Gospel flavoured Country-Soul of Breakdown The Walls proving what a talent this guy has in reserve.
Although born and again living in Michigan, Luke has spent the last 10 years in New Orleans and that City and the surrounding countryside certainly appears to have infiltrated his psyche on the gorgeous Born to Roam, Chicken Dinner and After The Rain, which all conjure up romantic images of cruising around the Delta in an open top car with your best gal by your side and no particular place to go and no special time to get there.
Even after all this time I’m struggling to choose a ‘Favourite Song’ as several have suited various moods I’ve been in, but it finally boils down to two and you can only separate them by a cigarette paper, with Farewell Blues, which closes the album being the best song JJ Cale never wrote as Winslow-King takes us on a trip to the bottom of his heart, making it a very close second to the actual title track Blue Mesa which just might be the best song Luke has ever recorded and one of the coolest and refined I’ve heard in a lot of years…….and I’ve heard a lot.
Like a fine wine, there’s plenty of constituent parts that make up this inspired record, but after 5 previous albums I think it’s fair to say Luke Winslow-King has finally found the sound that finally defines him on BLUE MESA making it a bit of a Masterpiece of the genre.
Released 11th May 2018