Patty Griffin The Black Box Belfast Northern Ireland May 7th 2019
Texan Erika Wennerstrom opened with her own unique brand of Alternative Folk, featuring her distinct voice with its low-end timber working well with her ‘drop tuned’ guitar. Her song ‘Be Good To Yourself’ was definitely the stand out and I look forward to checking out more of her work. Flanked by David Pulkingham and Conrad Choucroun, Patty took to the stage, and greeted us with ‘hola’ as Pulkingham’s Spanish guitar stylings give us just a taste of the musicianship that lay ahead. Their first song was called ‘What I Remember,’ and the first of many new songs we heard; in total ten of the thirteen songs from her new self-titled album PATTY GRIFFIN. After formally introducing us to her virtuoso companions to us, Patty then vocally expressed her discontent with the man in the White house before launching into the politically aimed ‘The Wheel’, followed by a friendly chat about of her Irish roots which led into the lovely, ‘Boys From Tralee’. We were then treated to a Blues/Gospel number called ‘Standing;’ during which the band were really moving, with luscious harmonies that complimented Griffins vocals; creating a stunning gospel choir sound that was worthy of any church of any denomination; and more impressive was watching Choucroun effortlessly playing bass and drums simultaneously too. Next was the Screaming Jay Hawkins inspired ‘Hour Glass’, with it’s New Orleans Jazz feel to it and with Pulkington’s playing I can’t help but think it eventually owed more to Django than Jay Hawkins. Around half way through, the sidemen left the stage and it was just us, Patty, her guitar, and HER VOICE. The mournful ‘Had A Good Reason’ transported us away to another place, with every inflection and emotion filled note in her voice there for all to hear up front, the star of the show. This is what it’s all about, her voice inhabits the character of every song, not for one moment do we doubt the story she conveys. The solo slot lasts for one more song, 2002’s ‘Making Pies’ and again it’s all about her voice, baking has never sound so good. The band returned and we got four more new tracks, Luminous Places, Bluebeard, Where I Come From, and for me the performance of the night the ethereal ‘What Now’ which had the room visibly and literally in awe. Then 2010’s ‘Move Up’ followed by ‘River’, and crowd favourite ‘When It Don’t Come Easy’ receives a cheer as the opening notes are played. The end nears as Patty dons a mandolin, gives thanks to the Belfast audience and says goodbye kicking into the feel good ‘Shine A Different Way’. Of course there was an encore, returning to the sound of stomping feet she takes to the stage and began to perform ‘Heavenly Day’ which unsurprisingly received the biggest applause of the night. Already one of her more well-known songs, it has seen a recent revival after featuring in the Netflix hit ‘The Haunting Of Hill House’. Somehow Patty managed to find another gear and performed all of the runs in her vocal arsenal and left the stage to rapturous applause and a very contented room.
Courtesy Dean Maywood Photo: Michael Gillespie from MDG Photoworks
Markus Rill & The Troublemakers Songland Blue Rose Records
Heartfelt, Intimate and Gutsy Americana Drenched Country Songs.
Mrs Magpie and I are huge fans of German singer-songwriter Markus Rill; not least because he has a very individual and distinctive voice; but his very personal stories and songs take Americana/Country Music into a our hearts with just about every song; and with Sarah Stein he created one of my very favourite songs of all time; and one you should research before reading any further. Go on…… I can wait. Back again? It’s beyond ‘good’ isn’t it? So, onto 2019 it is then Possibly just from the title Saddle Up and Ride, but certainly within 30 seconds of the opening track you know you are onto a winner, with Rill and the Troublemakers dropping a game changer of a Country Rocker with a catchy chorus and a hummable melody on us without any warning, whatsoever. Some, many songs are very personal here and many are from Rill’s clever imagination and some combine the two; and I can’t tell which is which. As a man of ‘a certain age’ Rill sings about ‘love’ in a way younger writers can’t; making the reflective The Thing With Love or the captivating A Love So Strong very accessible and resonant to grown up all around the musical world. Now I’ve listened a couple of times, there’s a ‘big sound’ here which belies the short time they spent in the studio; but that’s what comes of keeping the same band around you and constantly touring for a lot of years ……. it brings out the very best in songs like Words of Apology and the Southern Soul of Fearless, a co-write with Swede Eva Hillerd and and features Texan Elizabeth Lee on honeyed harmonies too. Even as a fan I’ve found a few great surprises tucked away that need your attention; they release their inner Rolling Stones on A Girl That’s Gone and the claustrophobic Words of Apology utilises an accordion and skillful slide-guitar in a way that could be described as ‘Dylan covering Springsteen’ ….. but probably won’t be. I’ve never asked my wife for her thoughts on the subject; but I love and empathise with Rill’s trademark ‘unrequited love songs’ and here he gives us another couple of gems in the hauntingly acoustic Emily and the brokenhearted Mistake Like Me; which may or may not have touched my heart in a way others can’t. With so much going on here, and the way the songs swing seamlessly from the gentle Americana of songs like Length of Rope, through the gutsy Inside The Wheel and coming full circle with Conscience County Jail, choosing a Favourite Song is nigh on impossible; but try I will. My first choice should probably be the insightful and clever Swampland of Your Mind, which really does conjure up some amazing imagery; and the other is another regular theme on Markus Rill’s albums; Old Man Now about the singers Father; and could easily be about my own Dad or possibly be how my sons see me. Whatever; it’s the type of song most songwriters fantasise about writing but 99.9% of the time fail miserably …….. but Rill describes this familial and very masculine love quite delightfully and very intimately too. Apparently our friend and his band only booked the studio for ten days, hopefully coming out the other end with 10 songs; but in only five days created all 15 that make up this album; and I agree ……. there’s no filler here at all; I can’t think of anything that could or should be left off. Every one’s a winner! . Like many of us outside the US of A Rill grew up with a romantic image of this fascinating country and, just like me, the music, TV and Films have taken him on a fantastic journey, with SONGLAND only being the most recent staging point; and one I can’t recommend highly enough.
Lone Justice Live at The Palomino (1983) Omnivore Recordings
A Very Early Alternative to Alt. Country.
Most Live Recordings don’t stand the test of time and are generally a snapshot of where that particular artiste or band were at that time in their existence; and the latter is very true of this exciting 35 minute long Album from a nascent Lone Justice in 1983 who still hadn’t released their groundbreaking debut album yet. When you hear Maria’s reverential pleading on opening track You Are The Light, you are hearing a woman not yet finding her voice; but still leading her band from front and centre with more confidence than her tender years should have allowed. There’s a youthful swagger to Drugstore Cowboy and The Train that I should have expected, but somehow didn’t …… those old Lone Justice albums never sounded this exciting; nor how could they? It’s interesting to read in the accompanying sleeve-notes that it was after seeing Elvis Costello playing the Country songs that would make up Almost Blue, at The Palomino Club that turned Ryan Hedgecock’s head towards Ye Olde Country Music and away from Rockabilly. It was that very same album that was the gateway to what has become an obsession for me here at RMHQ. There’s a delightful innocence to the way the quartet approach their collective songwriting on Dustbowl Depression Time and The Grapes of Wrath and maybe I See It, but simplicity has paid a lot of bills in Nashville over the years and these songs all have a magnificently danceable beat supplied by Don Willens on the tiniest drum kit I’ve seen in years….. but size isn’t everything, is it? Baring in mind their peers and probably friends too were dressing like extras in Dallas or Magnum PI the night this was recorded in 1983; Lone Justice were treading a very dangerous and lonely path covering Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash songs while Maria McKee was undoubtedly channelling her inner Dolly Parton; but in her Honky Tonk years! My favourite track here and it’s also one that sounds like it should be an actual Classic Country tune; is Marvin Etzioni’s Working Late; an audience request on the night and a song worthy of everyone from Dolly through Reba and it wouldn’t surprise me if Margo Price was to ever cover it….. it’s a doozy! It’s all over far too quickly; but they played two shows that night; as was the way back then and they had to allow for two sets from their support act….. guess who? Only bloody Dwight Yoakam! That’s who. This is being released as part of the Record Store Day 2019 shenanigans; but it’s a keeper in many ways so don’t you let it get lost in the madness of April 12th……. order a copy now; you won;t regret it.
John Paul White The Hurting Kind Single Lock Records
Country Songs For Not Just Only The Lonely But the Hopeful Too.
Even if I didn’t already know who John Paul White was the stunning Blue Notesque artwork on the album cover would certainly have caught my attention in a record shop; and I would cross my fingers that that haunted look in the singers eyes was a foretaste of what was to come. And my second sight would have been 100% correct. White’s songs in his previous incarnation as half of the Civil Wars and then his last solo album Beulah were always heartfelt and on the sadder edges of Country Music; but from opening song The Good Old Days you get the feeling this young man has spent the intervening years wallowing in the section of his record collection that includes Hank, George, Patsy, Raul and more likely than not……. Roy Orbison. What a way to start an album; and man, oh man will that song take your breath away. It’s never been in any doubt that White was/is one of the finest songwriters of his generation and here he surrounds himself with some really clever co-writers; but even I have been surprised by the depths of his soul that he manages to mine for the winsome The Long Way Home or Yesterday’s Love and the stunning and occasionally stinging title track itself, The Hurting Kind which will all break hearts left, right and centre across the Western World. John Paul White admits to attempting to recreate the Classic Country sound of the early 1960’s when they went into the studio; and he has certainly managed that with ease, but just like Buddy Holly he’s managed to include luscious orchestrations throughout that never threaten to overshadow his magnificent voice or contemporary and it has to be said, edgy lyrics either. If there’s a theme here; and as it’s a Country Album in all but name; the golden thread is ‘Love’ in all it’s forms. On I Wish I Could Write You a Song, White adds some Twang as a metaphor for the way his heart feels as he attempts to tell the girl how he feels. I can only think he missed a Million Dollar Trick by not releasing this on St. Valentine’s Day! The song that already appears to picking up interest is the world weary duet with Lee Ann Womack, This Isn’t Gonna End Well and it’s as wonderful a Country duet as you will hear this year, or indeed methinks…… this century! But…… that’s not even the best song here! Nor is Mrs. Magpie’s selection for Favourite Song My Dreams Have All Come True, the one where White takes melancholy into a whole new stratosphere. Nope, the best song here (in my humble opinion) is Heart Like a Kite, a fairly simply constructed song by the high standards that White sets here; but one full of metaphors and longing that will reduce grown men to a mushy heap. Just imagine White sitting on a porch with his Stetson tipped back on his head as he fights back the tears while singing, “She’s got a heart like a kite Floating away all the time But I’m holding on for dear life But she’s got a heart like a kite.” Come on; if George Jones had wrote that verse there’s not a jukebox in America that wouldn’t still be playing it today. It would have been all too easy for John Paul White to have stayed in the shadows with his current career as a ‘Go-To’ Producer; but no…… he’s a songwriter and singer first and foremost, and he’s dug deep here to create in many ways a career-defining album that should and will not just feature in many Reviewers Top 10’s of 2019; but will surely see him in the running for yet another Grammy.
Well; here’s a thing …… this album has arrived with no accompanying Press Release save for a note saying Pete Gow is the singer in a band called Case Hardin; and this is his first solo album. As I have no idea whom Case Hardin is/are (I’m not part of the London hipster UK Americana cognoscenti! ) I will just have to rely on my ears and my heart and let the music do the talking. With all of that in mind; it was my trusty I-Phone that actually picked out a couple of songs for me by random last week which brought me back to the album today. One of those songs was opening track One Last One-Night Stand; a darkly morose song sung in a droll and world weary voice that sounds like it’s lived a life that would have shamed Townes Van Zandt; and somehow swoops and soars like a windswept night on the Moors, making it a thing of raw and aching beauty. Try to imagine how it made me feel driving home at midnight, in the rain after a ten hour shift. Yep; I most certainly had tears in my eyes, but a song in my heart. For an Englishman, Pete Gow’s voice has no discernible accent, nor even an affixed American drawl; although that would have been my first guess from the way he delivers his marvelous poetical tales. I’ve been stunned by the articulate way Gow writes his songs; not a million miles away from Townes or Guy I suppose; but with a razor sharp edge that I associate with newer songwriters like Sturgill Simpson and Hayes Carll; taking simple daily things like TV Re-Runs and filling them with all kinds of clever ephemera and imagery that make them sound ever so romantic; albeit in a cracked and flawed manner. Some times; quite a few actually, you don’t need to know or understand a songs back-story to like it; and that’s the case here with Some Old Jacobite King and the title track Here There’s No Sirens. But, some songs also just unravel before your ears and you will find yourself knowing both characters from your own intimate circle of friends in Mikaela ….. “They sat down and they worked it all out Instead of running each other out of town I found a Bonnie to my Clyde She’d leave any teller bleeding/who refused the combination” Sometimes you wonder how some people do find each other; but they do and Pete Gow captures that mystery quite exquisitely on this wonderful song. Another that is a heady mixture of the simple and the complicated is Pretty Blue Flower which closes the record in a gut wrenching kind of way that will make you immediatly reach for the ‘replay’ button. At first I thought selecting a Favourite Song was going to be difficult; but the more I’ve played the album one song has continued to grow on me and now I’ve played Strip For Me 5 times in a row and feel it’s one of the finest songs I’ve heard in years. Where to start? It’s the type of slow and bucolic Country Gothic song about the type of love that will always end in tears; but is ever so compelling for both parties and somehow Pete Gow captures both the excitement and pathos so brilliantly in every line. “Did you think you were one of those girls Too beautiful to hurt Too beautiful to cheat on There’s no girl too beautiful for that Strip for me like Stormy Daniels Do you still have a thing for older married men?“ I’ve been really, really impressed with Pete Gow’s songwriting and the imagery he creates from start to finish; and coupled to the laid-back Alt. Country musical backdrop and Joe Bennett’s cleverly simple production I think I’ve found another ‘keeper’ for the RMHQ Collection.
Folk-Rock Meets Alt. Country on a Moody and Melodramatic Soundtrack to Our Lives.
*Disclaimer. Roy Peak is a trusted member of the RMHQ Extended Family who write prosaic reviews from the heart in a style becoming of the wonderful records he creates as a side line to his day job as ‘Bass Player For Hire’. So obviously there will be no nepotism involved in the writing of this review. (Ya think?) That said, I only got to know Roy after reviewing his last album ALL IS WELL and as we live on different continents we are more pen-pals than friends; but he does have phenomenal musical taste that mirrors my own. Opening track Sylvia, Sylvia took me by surprise as it’s a moody acoustic modernish Folk song with a bit of a bouncy beat and some lightning Dobro from Mark Williams ; not like I remember at all…… but better? Not for the last time here, Roy uses his world weary voice as an extra instrument to curl its way around his words in a way most others couldn’t possibly achieve. One song title in particular caught my attention as I skimmed the album cover; The Radioactive Kid, which may or may not also be the title of a Bill Bryson book but that’s only coincidental as this gloriously intense self-searching tale with a searing Hawaiian/steel guitar thread will tug at your heartstrings in a way my favourite travel writer never could. When reviewing songs you are supposed to try to get to the roots of what the writer ‘meant’ but as a fan; I just try to explain the emotions that the songs create which is sad but hopeful when I hear Look Up At The Moon, ‘smiley’ with the dark and almost gloomy Look at Miss Ohio and ’empathetic’ each time I tap my toes to the growling Broken Too. I’ve said a couple of times lately that I’m not really a lover of instrumentals; but the delightfully moody Not Enough Mermaids (with that beautiful Hawaiian/steel guitar lilt again) is a TV theme tune in waiting surely? The title An Ever Darkening Sky squeezed my heart near to bursting the first time I heard it, as it really captured the zeitgeist of my life that evening; but today I’m in a different place and can just appreciate it for what it is; an intense and beautifully created song about depression and the shades that beast creates inside your head. In today’s ‘market’ I suppose this album fits into the Alt. Country file; but there’s a bit of a Folk-Rock edginess to it too; none more so than the bittersweet break-up song Walk Away, which features Mr Mark Williams on harmonica too; which is something of a rare treat. Then there is the ordeal of selecting one of my friends ‘musical babies’ as a personal favourite…….. well; I’m going for the ginger haired step-kid; Old Crow, which by the standards the album sets is a bit of a ‘right Royal Rocker’ albeit of the shoe-gazing type, and one that could and should prove a stepping stone for a whole album of Neil Young/REM/Tom Petty/Waco Brothers influenced songs in the near future perhaps? There’s an argument that it’s never been easier to release music, but when I hear albums by songwriters like Roy Peak I marvel at the talent and fortitude that is actually out there to still battle through the numerous and tricky hurdles that the current music industry creates; to get their songs and tunes out into Internetland, making this a better place for me and you to live in.
Admit it; if you were in a record store and saw an album called Tennessee Alabama Fireworks by a guy called Boo Ray you’d pick it up, wouldn’t you? I thought so…… and then you’d probably ask the assistant if you could hear a couple of tracks? Trust me, as soon as you hear the pedal-steel that opens the catchy Truckin’ Tune; A Tune You Can Whistle it would have you reaching for your wallet; and when Boo Ray’s raspy vocals trample all over the Twangy geetar you would be throwing your cash across the counter and not waiting for the disc to put in a bag! Well; that’s how I felt. Boo Ray? I’ve not heard of him before; but that’s obviously my loss as he puts the Americana into Ameripolitan or whatever we are calling Country Music these days. He’s got a mighty clever way with words, as he croons all over the mellow ballad Honky Tonk Dream, then kicks up a storm on the apologetic love song 20 Questions without letting you catch your breath. I haven’t checked, but I picture Boo Ray hiding behind a big ole pair of Aviator glasses; possibly even the Elvis type as he hides his tears on Gone Back Down to Georgia and the heartbreaking We Ain’t Got The Good too. To all intents and purposes Don’t Look Back and Out Run the Wind is the type of Country Music you pray to hear in a bar on a Tuesday night, when there are more people on stage than in the audience, and those who are there, are there because they don’t want to go home; and Boo Ray sings from the heart just for them. All of these songs could easily find their way onto those shiny albums that those guys with designer stubble and made to measure Stetson hats bring out every few weeks; but none of them can find the pathos in She Wrote the Song the way Boo Ray does; and when he sings, “it’s the pain pills that took away my sweetheart/ it gives me cold chills/ I think I’m gonna leave a star.” you will have cold chills yourself. The biggest surprise for me here; is that the songs come in at 6, 7, 8 or even 9 minutes long; but don’t worry that this is a Prog whig out….. not in the slightest; Boo Ray just lets his songs breathe and develop in a way very few others are allowed these days; and my own favourite song Skin & Ink which closes the disc is a mighty 8 minutes and 19 seconds long; but like everything that has gone before it…… not a single word or note shouldn’t be there. If you are of my generation and discovered Country Music via the Country Rock acts of the late 70’s and 80’s like the Allmans, Skynard or Creedence then this album is meant for you. Great songs, sung with passion and from the heart by a leathery voice and a band that has the ability to stop your heart on a whim.
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.
#UPDATE This is finally being released in the US of A with a brand new cover and the the addition of one new song, Pink Clouds a charming duet with RMHQ favourite Will Kimbrough which, if you’re patient runs out into a rather special treat for Amelia White fans…….
Melodious and Introspective Songs From the Recesses of a Dark Soul.
Now I’ve played this album a couple of times I’ve now read the accompanying Press Release and it’s a good job I’ve done it in that order; as who wants to hear from a singer-songwriter with a Masters in English Lit. who has come out the other side from substance abuse to go on to earn a Master of Divinity degree with a PHd in Religious Studies and becoming an ordained Methodist Minister? Not many I would guess. But………. John Kilzer from Memphis TN, ain’t no ordinary Singer-Songwriter! Opening track Flat Bed Truck is a weird Beatles/Country hybrid…… no, seriously…… there is something distinctively Beatlesish in the melody and production; but the subject matter is very much Smalltown, Middle America and the combination works when it most obviously shouldn’t. In the nicest possible way this album of quite dark stories is actually very ‘easy on the ear;’ which comes down to Kilzer’s astute use of melodies and actual ‘catchy tunes’ to accentuate his very literate and clever story telling. Woods of Love and It, alongside a couple of others have a delightful ‘English Pop sensibility’ …. think The Beatles or Kinks; but just like Flat Bed Truck John Kilzer’s story is 100% Americana to the core. These songs were either written or culled from notes he made when he was in a ‘thin place’ a few years ago; but went back to in readiness for making this album; which probably explains his clever and intricate use of light and shade in Hello Heart, Rope The Moon and the rather splendid Twinkle of Love, which sounds like it could easily be converted into a Torch Song by any one of a number of young female singers looking for a Hit single. Kilzer’s Americana Roots comes to the fore on the Alt. Country Soft Rockers woods of Love, Dark Highway and The American Blues, which are both as tightly wrapped as a drum yet you will find yourself carelessly singing along with the chorus of both. For the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Track there are two songs that are so good you can’t slide a cigarette paper between them; so the title is a tie between the astute and very introspective title track Scars and the dark ode to his home Memphis Town, which is possibly the illegitimate younger brother to Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis and is exactly what Americana music was invented for. John Kilzer has been in and around the music scene for a very long time; recording albums and writing minor hits for others; and coupled to the his own ‘life, lived well’ he has combined absolutely everything (plus his love of a melody!) to create a rather fabulous album that will age like a fine wine; or more likely a fine bourbon!
Rebecca Loebe is one of those artists that have flitted in and out of my ‘musical life’ a couple of times over the last few years; and I can remember playing a couple of tracks on my Olde Radio Show several years ago. Here we find her again with this gorgeously delicate single Ghosts; taken from the album GIVE UP YOUR GHOSTS due for release in early February; and from the few tracks I’ve played has all the hallmarks of being a bit of a game-changer for this young lady.