The King of Rock & Roll Was the Forefather Of Alt. Country Too!
Those fine folks at Omnivore recordings sure have the ability to unearth some forgotten gems; often hidden away in Record Company vaults covered in dust and spiders. As a for instance, who knew the self-proclaimed King of Rock and Roll recorded so many albums in the 1970’s and that one; this one ……. was what we have come to know as Alternative Country? Apart from appearing on a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ compilation in 2005, SOUTHERN CHILD has been hidden from public view ever since it was recorded in 1972 as a follow up to King of Rock & Roll; but rEPRISE label executives didn’t know what to make of it; and I’m damn sure his legions of fans wouldn’t have either! If you had accepted a lift from Marty McFly in his DeLorean that year and landed in 2020 (God forbid!!) you’d have discovered that what Little Richard was doing then; is actually now commonplace; in fact if I was to do a ‘blind tasting’ I swear 9 out of 10 music cats would think this was from Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed or St. Paul and the Broken Bones or their like; but ….. Hell’s Teeth music lovers; this is … and only can be Little Richard. When he bellows “I was born in the Country and raised in the County!” at the start of California (I’m Comin’) there’s that instant thrill that you’re in the presence of someone really special. This song in particular just oozes the smells of the swamps and roadhouses that line them; Little Richard just bleeds sleaze and sass in every line and stanza. Track #2 will stagger his old school fans; as it’s a lot slower and based around an acoustic guitar; although the rather amorphous title, If You Pick Her Too Hard (She’ll Go Out of Tune) and the way he sings it, could easily be a double entendre. I’ve listened to this as a ‘brand new album’ and you should too; otherwise you end up in a rabbit hole comparing and contrasting with things that don’t actually exist. This was obviously a very brave change of direction from the Master; and one that backfired …….. but when I first heard the title track Southern Child and I Git a Little Lonely I genuinely and absent mindedly thought “I would love to see this guy live belting these out at SummerTyne Festival.” DOH!
But the whole album sounds so fresh; and often exciting too …. with the soul searching Ain’t No Telling and an early contender for Favourite Track status; Last Year’s Race Horse (Can’t Win This Year’s Race) which metaphorically touched places most other songs can’t for a man my age. In fairness I could live without ever hearing Puppy Dog Song again (and that’s true of the 3 In The Name outtakes too; but that’s more than recompensed with by the addition of the Country Rock fantastique instrumental Sneak the Freak tagged on at the end. For my actual Favourite track her I’ve been torn between In The Name (take #3) which sees Penneman pouring his heart out alongside some sublime slide guitar and a wailing harmonica; and becomes as harrowing and Soul searching as Country Music gets. Yet at the other end of the Love Song spectrum; Burning Up With Love is a right ybelter; and I’m going for the latter as it sounds as fresh and truly exciting as anything the young ‘uns in this category will release in the next 2 or 3 years; which is amazing when you consider that it’s nigh on half a century old and initially; wasn’t deemed good enough for release. Once you get past the album cover; which is ‘of its time’ and very, very Little Richard; you are in for a right royal treat from the one time King of Rock and Roll who; apparantly was the forefather of Alt. Country too.
Released (yellow vinyl) November 27th 2020 Released (CD & Stream) December 5th 2020
As a general rule we like to receive an album about a month before release here at RMHQ, then we can give the songs the time they deserve to mature and then get a fair and honest review (or get left by the wayside – sorry). But occasionally, unsigned Independent artists will discover us via a review of a Major League act and get in touch. Trying to fit those albums into the itinerary is difficult; but my good old fashioned ‘guilt’ takes over and a cursory play in the car, with the fast-forward button can be a test/trial. That’s what happened here ……… and the FF button was only used once! In their bio, West of Colfax admit to originally being an Americana ‘Covers Band’ …….. which is a great apprenticeship of course; but I have no recollection of ever having seen an actual Americana ‘Covers Band’ ; Country – yes, Blues – of course, but Americana? Any hoot …. when I played track #1 for the second time (in early July 2020) the the opening line of verse four, and the actual song title made my jaw drop and my ears pop wide open! Choke Hold? CHOKE HOLD? Was this cool and Twangy ‘love song’ really called Choke Hold? Yes it is; and was undoubtedly written long before George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, and is actually quite a neat metaphor for the feeling at the start of a new love affair …….. but with the benefit of hindsight! That apart this young band from Preston in NW England have used their ‘Covers Band’ schooling exquisitely; conjuring up genuine Americana imagery on every song here and they sure do know how to use a melody. Best played on a long car journey, Tyre Tracks and the title track Barfly Flew By really come into their own, zipping along like a rusty MGBGT with the roof down on a sunny day. But, West on Colfax have many more strings to their bow; the Bluegrass imbued Back Out On the Run is like a breath of fresh mountain air when it arrives; and the out and out Love Songs, This Ole Heart, Misty Morning Blue and Tinsel Heart couldn’t be any more different if they tried, with the former being a campfire Folk Song and the latter two jaunty Honky-Tonky toe-tappers. To some degree singer Alan Hay’s flat Northern accent, which he makes no attempt to disguise; may divide listeners, but I like his style a whole damn lot and I doubt my Favourite Song here, the charming Cowgirl of the Country would or could sound any more evocative or touching if in a Tennessee or Montana voice. Yet again we appear to have unearthed another little gem; and a British one at that ……… check them out on Bandcamp, then I’m pretty sure you will find yourself pressing ‘buy’ long before the final notes fade away into the night air.
Swaggeringly Good 21st Century Guitar Driven Rock.
Over the course of her career, Lilly Hiatt has steadily developed a strong musical identity and everything good comes together on “Walking Proof” to create her best album yet – yes, even better than the breakthrough “Trinity Lane”, according to these ears. Those who have been fortunate enough to see Lilly live over the last couple of years have born witness to the development of a fuller, confident guitar-driven sound – and that comes over more than anything on “Walking Proof” – this album rocks – in all the right ways. “Rae” is a reflective opener with gloriously melancholy riffs over a gorgeous melody and thoughtful loud-soft dynamics throughout. “P-Town” is air guitar boogie heaven from the off, yet has a vocal vitality and nicely placed and played bottleneck guitar that it’s impossible not to move your ‘dancing parts’ along to. “Little Believer” moves the listener along to Alabama, lyrically at least with a thumping staccato rhythm and descending Pearl Jam guitar lines. “Some kind of drug” sets a minor chord Nirvana-ish guitar against a reflective and resigned tale of past relationships; again, the arrangement is sublime – there’s loads going on, but the playing and production is balanced and powerful. “Candy Lunch” takes a quieter, melodic turn across Lilly’s relationship with the disparate parts and people of her home city. Title track “Walking Proof” is a stomp-box led Irish tinged statement of intent…….. “I could tell you That it’s easy But that wouldn’t be the truth” things may turn sour, but our heroine is “Walking Proof” that you can get out there and still score little victories. “Drawl” – “You’re beautiful and you don’t know it” is a message of reassurance support and strength …… “Don’t you ever lose that drawl again”. “Brightest Star” leaps out of the speakers and is the 2020 summer anthem – positive, life-affirming and if you don’t want to head bang to this, I’m afraid you’re just no fun or plain dead. “Never play guitar” references the joys of having noisy neighbours, being a noisy neighbour and realising that “I can’t write a song If I never play guitar” “ Move” takes a shuffle rhythm and spacey twangy country guitar – again, thematically it’s about getting on with stuff’n’shit. Life’s there – get on with it. “Scream” takes things down a notch to round things off with a note of defiance and independence that musically builds and throws off the past and reaches off with a fierce realism into a limitless future. Lilly and co have joined all the dots on this album – from the colour synaesthesia of the Kim Radford cover, through the thoughtful pacing, to the epic yet sympathetic Lincoln Parish production, plus guest appearances from Amanda Shires, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Luke Schneider and a certain Mr John Hiatt – it’s all there, wrapped up in an album of huge strength, fragile beauty and immense power. Wow, I say ….. WOW!
Quality Barroom, Foot Stompin’ Punk Infused Canadian Alt. Country.
John Borra’s Canadian version of alt-country owes a nod to punk rock and that’s a good thing. It’s interesting to me, as someone who started out playing bass in punk rock bands before gravitating to fronting their own material with acoustic guitar in a folk-rock format (with a hint of country), how many others have gone that same route? (John Borra played in punk bands in the 1980’s, and has played bass in multiple bands, now fronting an Alt-Country band. Apparently he also sidelines as an audio engineer when he’s not playing music, engineering and producing this album himself. Surprisingly, these are all things which I’ve also done! If I find out that he also writes music reviews for online blogs then our lives are indeed mysteriously mirroring one another for sure!) Is there a sense of familiarity between punk and country that ties them intrinsically together? Three chords and the truth apply equally, as does a sense of honesty and simple rawness, but there must be something more for artists as far apart as Florida, Toronto, New Zealand, and Italy to come to similar musical conclusions. Whatever it is, John Borra seems to have found his way from punk rocker to Alt-Country frontman and is doing an admirable job of making it work. Blue Wine, his first solo album since 2002, is equal parts poetic Honky Tonk and revved up Punkish barn burners. Backed by a band of musicians more than capable of pulling off whatever Borra throws at them, he sings his way through eleven well written songs that show off his distinctive voice to perfection. Borra’s lyrics sometimes leave a bit to be desired—his rhyming schemes would never be mistaken for Dylan’s or Cohen’s— but he makes up for it with uncompromising grit and a strong sense of melody. And complete props to the unexpected cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Foggy Notion.” Borra’s version keeps the fun urgency of the original and turns it on its head with a bit of barroom stomping and tasty piano. Speaking of that piano, eschewing lead guitar for the standout lead piano of Mike Boguski throughout this album was a wise and crucial decision too, as Boguski deliciously hammers and pounds his way through these tunes as if he owns them, bringing to mind John Cale’s frenzied piano on many of the tunes by the aforementioned Velvets. “Americana” bands take note: It doesn’t always have to be pedal steel, mandolin, or chicken-pickin’ to set the right mood! Other standout tracks on Blue Wine are “The Wars,” “Machu Picchu,” and the barroom romance of “Hambre and Dolores” which were all co-written with poet Eva H.D. “Secret Time” is a sweet and fulfilling album closer, but “Way Back Home,” a duet with Dani Nash, who also wrote this fun, swinging tune, is the track you’ll go back to again and again.
The Most Powerful and Important Rock & Roll Record of the Decade.
Who knew the nascent Drive-By Truckers were originally formed in 1996? 1996? Seriously? 24 years ago? I guess they first crossed my path with A Blessing and a Curse; then I suppose I became a ‘fan’ with GO-GO BOOTS ……. which is still a ‘go to’ album every now and again. I’ve never seen the band play live; but did once see Patterson Hood on a rare solo foray to the North East of England. With such a rarified and even exalted history; Hood, Cooley & Co could be forgiven for coasting at this stage of their career; but HELL NO they still have fire in their belly’s! With so much going on in the US of A these days the songs on this album must have almost written themselves! You are almost lulled into a false sense of security with opening track Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun; if it weren’t for the title itself. A brooding orchestral back-fill behind a haunting piano builds and builds as Patterson takes us on a dark road trip that will eventually send a shiver down your spine with the pay off. Maybe I’m wrong but I can’t remember a Truckers song anything quite like it. That sentiment isn’t true of the next song; Armageddon’s Back In Town which is fire and brimstone fuelled Southern Rock Deluxe; and needs to be played as loud as possible with the car windows wound down and the pedal pushed right down to the floor. Deep metaphors, a melody worthy of Bernstein and choruses that will have audiences braying along with gusto combine to really get your adrenaline flowing like nobody’s business. That same high tempo and spirited Rock sound follows with Slow Ride Argument; only with Mike Cooley now at the mic; and on most albums would be My Favourite Track; but trails way, way behind the leaders here …….. as Drive-By Truckers deliver one of the most important albums of not just the year; but the whole decade. I must now jump to the final two tracks, Grievance Merchants and Awaiting Resurrection as they are imminently just as good as Slow Ride; and again on most other albums would be genuine highlights; but with such powerful songs like what I’m about to describe that come in between them; many will miss those three out …… but I urge you to listen intently and cherish them just as much. Now; sit back and get comfortable. I’m the King of Hyperbole when it comes to describing songs and albums; but the four songs that make up the middle of this album just ‘speak for themselves’ and prove that Patterson Hood is one of the Greatest songwriters of his generation. *Thoughts and Prayers is absolutely stunning and captures the current zeitgeist perfectly as he taunts our politicians and Social Commentators unmercifully ……. esp the line: “Stick it up your ass With your useless Thoughts and Prayers.” …….. and so say all of us! There’s an almost jaunty beat to 21st Century (USA) which comes up next and is a sparkling insight into Smalltown America or indeed anywhere in the UK pre and most likely post-Brexit. Okay; it’s the type of song Bruce has written over the years; but this is razor sharp and a damn sight more believable and fits in perfectly on this album. Next up, Heroin Again is probably the sort of feisty Alt-Rocker ‘with a message’ that I may have expected in advance; but when you really listen to the lyrics (beneath those searing guitars) it’s a very personal story about someone close to the writer and will bring a tear to a glass eye. Then there is just one more song to mention ……. Babies in Cages. Is it right to make such a horrible song my Favourite? Although ‘Favourite’ is probably the wrong description; but it is such an important song that I need to push it clear of everything else and let it breathe on its own. The title says it all; but the imagery and articulate way the singer describes the horrific scenes that befall our World in the 21st Century are absolutely mind boggling. “I bang my head against it Smash guitars and scream and shout Standing on the beach watching the tide go out Babies in cages Standing in the darkness to answer for our sins Children changing each others diapers in a pen Babies in cages.“ It’s the song that you hoped Bob, Bruce or Neil would write for us; but their day has gone …… all Hail Drive-By Truckers for keeping these stories in the public eye. “It’s Only Rock & Roll” the Rolling Stones once sang; but that’s the medium that has always spoke to and for my generation; and on this album Drive-By Truckers have used the power of song to not just touch our hearts and make us actually think about the world around us in many different forms; but somehow managed to do it without ever sounding worthy or patronising while entertaining us too ……. which is a helluva clever thing to do.
*For the geeks out there Thoughts and Prayers. – Patterson Hood – Baxendale Acoustic (Capo’d to G) Awaiting Resurrection – Brad Morgan – Drums and Grunts, Patterson Hood – Gibson SG, Lead Vocal and Heavy Breathing (2nd Solo), Mike Cooley – Electric Slide Guitar (1st and 3rd solos.)
Various Artists Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots (BSHQ 25th Anniversary Compilation) Bloodshot Records
Here’s to Another 25 Years of Insurgent Country and Defiant Roots! Ching-Ching Chaps and Chapesses!
I’m an unadulterated fan of Bloodshot Records and starting with the LP ‘Straight Outta Boone County’ which I bought in a Public Library Sale for 50p, their compilations have been a constant source of discovering great new acts over the years ! Staggeringly, this offering is celebrating 25 years of Bloodshot Records and their ‘Insurgent Country Music’ roster, both old and new. The ‘new’ comes right at ya, without any warning ……… when Wyatt Earp and The Free For Alls prove Honky-Tonk music can be as contemporary as any other category, while still retaining the magic that filled the airwaves back in the 50’s and 60’s with the gloriously feisty The Last Honky Tonk in Chicago. Bloodshot have always had very obtuse and diverse musical tastes (much like us here) and their compilations always reflect that; daring to give us Folk and Lo-fi from acts like Half Gringa with their delicately constructed Wearing White, Joybird’s Sweetness and Bethany Thomas & Tawny Newsome whose Dinosaur is a left of centre Lo-Fi minor masterpiece that only Bloodshot would have the nerve to release. Then they juxtapose these with Straight Up Country in every format known to the world; from The Hoyle Brother’s celebration of Twang on A Little Bit of Buck; and in another universe The Western Elston’s Everly Brothers sounding Toast That Lie would be played 24 hours a day on Country Hits Radio, and Brendan Kelly & the Wandering Birds manage to scare the neighbours with their grizzly Alt. nay …… ‘Insurgent’ Country ballad Lay Me Down. This being Bloodshot there is also a host of new songs from old acts associated with this great label; Jon Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild go as left of centre as Country Music gets with the rollicking I Am a Big Town, and when I first heard Brett Sparks from The Handsome Family turning Leonard’s Tower of Song into a Western Swing Trip-Hop Gothic missive my heard spun 360 degrees; but do you know what? I’ve come back several times and it just gets cooler and cooler each time. Two acts I saw on the back cover really excited me as I hadn’t heard anything from either in yonks; with Sway, Freakwater still have the ability to make two voices and a banjo hit you right between the eyes like virtually no other act in existence; the other is Kelly Hogan (who is the only woman in the world I would leave Mrs Magpie for) does what she does best; using her beautiful voice in a way we normally associate with Patsy Cline to not just break your heart; but mend it too with the shimmering Gotta Have My Baby Back. #swoon With so many delights to choose from, it’s like being a kid on Christmas morning being asked “What is your favourite?” Do I pick the Honky-Tonking delights of Tammi Savoy & the Chris Casello Combo and If It’s News To You? or perhaps the mournful Alt. of Big Sadie? But then again Robbie Fulks’ Lonely Ain’t Hardly Alive is rather amazing too. Okay …… I’ve picked one; but this more than likely will change tomorrow ……… ta da! The RMHQ Favourite Song on this outstanding compilation is ……… the best grungy Cowboy Movie theme tune never to make it onto the big screen ……. Los Galos and Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! RMHQ says play this song loud and be proud to support Insurgent glories! Bloodshot Records have gone and done it again; capturing the glory of everything I and I hope you love about Insurgent Country and Defiant Roots music in 22 fabulous songs; and long may they continue.
Surprisingly Emotional Re-Imagining of Bob Dylan’s Street Legal.
Well, indeedy! Mr Robbie Fulks was one of my earliest ‘gateway acts’ into what we now lovingly call Alt. Country; and while loving most, if not everything he’s released since The Very Best of in 2000 or thereabouts; he’s never released an album that wasn’t as imminently listenable as they are interesting; and that’s a fair summation of his latest album; 16 – a brave re-imagining of Bob Dylan’s Street Legal. Before I start; I bet good money that I’m the only reviewer NEVER to have heard the original album! Seriously …… not a single note or word; His Bobness just leaves me cold …… but I do know he can write a damn fine song. 16 opens with the delicately beautiful Changing of The Guard; and the biggest surprise is that Fulks plays it absolutely straight as a dye. No tongue cheek. No sly wink to the side of the stage …… it’s obvious this early that he loves these songs; and while putting his own unmistakable stamp on them; he’s also paying homage to his musical hero. In my humble opinion; like Roger McGuinn before him; Robbie Fulks has a voice that’s a perfect match for Dylan’s intricate musings. Is Your Love In Vain is a big ole production, with Fulks dragging as much pathos as possible out of every single couplet; and on True Love Tends To Forget we find girly backing singers and a cool horn section, which somehow makes this sound like Van Morrison, if our Northern Irish friend could actually enunciate his vowels. Yet with We Better Talk This Through, Fulks and band attempt to rock the bloody doors off! Even the first time I heard these songs I knew that they were all very special indeed; especially the dark and brooding slice of contemporary Alt. Country New Pony; and Fulks delves really deep to do these lyrics justice and manages with ease and grace. As we all know Bob Dylan is a poet at heart; and that comes across all to well in the bedazzling Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat) which has more than a nod to the 60’s Beat Poets and even Sir Leonard Cohen too, in the way Fulks taps out a hypnotic beat with his vocals. My copy doesn’t include a list of the players behind Robbie Fulks; but it’s constantly obvious that they are all A Lister’s and the production is pin sharp from start to finish. As per usual it’s never easy to choose a Favourite Track as there are no ‘obvious singles’ as we used to say; this is as ‘Grown Up’ an album as I or you will hear this or any other year. But; there are two songs that captured my attention that first night and again today; Baby Stop Crying is everything my Bob Dylan loving friends tell me I should like about his work; but it’s taken the delicate touch of Robbie Fulks to now, possibly get me on board in the way he makes it sound Alt. Country and Jazz Lite at exactly the same time! The other; which I have decided is the actual RMHQ Favourite Song is ……… Senor (Tales of Yankee Power); again we go back to the poetry of Dylan’s lyrics to get at the heart of this almost Gothic tale; and when you unravel the story (I think I have, but I could be wrong) this could possibly be one of Bob Dylan’s Masterworks; but only because Robbie Fulks allows us in with his almost Edith Piaf style handling. This is quite unlike anything I’ve heard from Robbie Fulks before, but possibly because of that I’ve sat enthralled all afternoon just ‘listening’ to it; which is a rarity in this office.
It’s all been a bit crazy this week at RMHQ with little or no time to listen to new music ……. then along came this! The new single from a favourite singer-songwriter of ours Ms Annie Dressner and it’s hardly been off the car stereo and office hi-fi! There’s not a lot to say about it other than it’s a taster for a new album in the New Year and it’s BLOODY LOVELY! Enjoy and seek out her other recordings.
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors Dragons Magnolia Music/Thirty Tigers
The King of Alt. Country Hat Acts Delivers Another Classic!
In the internet age it’s kind of odd that albums are still occasionally released at different times across the world; which is why it’s annoying that I’ve missed the North American release date for this latest release by RMHQ Favourite Drew Holcomb; as my copy has arrived to coincide with its UK Release in October; but onwards and upwards we go. Opening track Family is unmistakably Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors but sounds unlike anything of theirs that I can ever remember. A jolly and eminently danceable beat based around some enthusiastic drumming and the band all harmonising on the word ‘Family’; which acts as sort of chorus ……. if only we had radio stations brave enough to play left of centre songs! There are all kinds of other songs here too ……. Holcomb himself describes them as a ‘sonic landscape’ and who am I to argue? Obviously there are the obligatory Love Songs, with none finer than the delicate heartbeat of But I’ll Never Forget The Way You Make Me Feel (featuring Ellie Holcomb on harmonies and Oooh Oohs); but the Byrdsian You Make It Look So Easy and the other duet with Ellie, the velvety lullaby Watch The World runs it a very close second and third. Surprisingly (to me at least) there are even a couple of exciting guest appearances, with Lori McKenna joining Drew on the swishing and swaying You Want What Have You Cant’ Have, which is as Pure damn a Country song as you will hear this year; and. Natalie Hemby from rising stars The Highwomen not only co-wrote the tragic and harrowing Maybe with Drew, but joins him on vocals too. The song that closes the album; Bittersweet opens with some slightly psychedelic guitar; but quickly finds Holcomb pouring his heart out over a divinely lo-fi backdrop from the Neighbors. Only time will tell if DRAGONS will become my favourite album from this fabulous singer-songwriter but with two simply stunning songs here tying for the accolade of not just Favourite Song on the album, status but being contenders for Favourite Song of the year too! The first finds The Lone Bellow alongside Drew and the Neighbors as Holcomb recalls the advice his Grandfather once gave him in a dream. In lesser hands this could easily have been twee and cloying; but in this setting Holcomb brought tears to my cynical eyes more than once. “ I was climbin’ a mountain Asleep in the moonlight Ghost of my grandpa Came to me in a dream ‘Cause the stars hung above us He started singing this chorus Laughed loud as hell And said this to me “Take a few chances, a few worthy romances Go swimming in the ocean, on New Year’s Day Don’t listen to the critics Stand up and bear witness Go slay all the dragons that stand in your way”
Now that’s a mantra for a life, well lived isn’t it? The other song, End Of The World finds Drew and his cohorts delving not just into REM territory in words, but Mumford & Sons in deeds too; and this very topical track is surely destined to becoming an Alt. Country Classic and should finally tip Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors into the Commercial stratosphere (hopefully).
Released North America August 16th 2019 Released UK & Europe October 11th 2019
The Cinematic Magic of Americana Captured By a Master.
Well; it’s finally here ……. and any new Bruce Springsteen album has to worthy of celebration, doesn’t it? ‘Yes’ is the required answer. That said, the last few haven’t been that great though, have they? Without resorting to Google I guess you can’t name any of the last 10, especially in chronological order. But; and I’m giving the game away early …… WESTERN STARS really is special, and unless you are one of those boring fans losing sleep waiting for the new E -Street Band album (that won’t be Born To Run II btw) this is really special indeed. The three pre-release singles appear to have only hinted as to the delights awaiting the more open-minded among us, stating with Hitch Hikin, a gentle tale of a loner ‘hitch hiking’ somewhere lonesome and windswept; and as expected is full of minutiae that most songwriters would miss out as being irrelevant; but when Bruce purrs that ‘the trucker has a dashboard picture of a pretty girl’ as the orchestra; and especially the cello build the background atmosphere into almost Hitchcockian proportions. Apart from Bruce’s trademarked vocals; WESTERN STARS is pretty much unlike just about anything I’ve heard from him before; apart from possibly the vastly underrated MAGIC, which may have been his starting point for some of the characters herein. This is immediatly followed by The Wayfarer and it’s not too much of a stretch to think that there could be some kind of ‘narrative’ linking all of the songs together; and now I’ve played the album to death over three days, it wouldn’t take a half decent Film Director to link everything together in one 60 minute film; as the stories and imagery here owe more to John Huston and Clint Eastwood than Woody and Bob. Maybe I’m wrong but I can’t remember Bruce using orchestral scores in this way before; and as the singles Tucson Train and Hello Sunshine merely hinted at; boy can he use this format to bring his words to life in a way, his normal R&R ways can’t; with relatively simple songs (for Bruce) like Stones and Drive Fast (Stuntman) becoming epic tales in this format. For a man of his age I’ve thought it all a bit ‘tiresome’ when he still sings about ‘wrapping your legs around velvet rims’ or ‘Dancing in the Dark’; but here his character(s) are older, if not wiser and just as troubled as everyone in Glory Days; and he’s not afraid of writing and singing about the things that effect our generation NOW; with the nod to Roy Orbison in There Goes My Miracle being a prime example and in the wistfully dark and brooding title track Western Stars he sings, ” I wake up in the morning, just glad my boots are on Instead of empty in the whispering grasses Down the Five at Forest Lawn On the set, the makeup girl brings me two raw eggs and a shot of gin Then I give it all up for that little blue pill That promises to bring it all back to you again.” Just like Bruce we are getting older, and still he’s singing for me and you. I think I knew where to go for the RMHQ Favourite Song right from the get go; but the droll and tired Moonlight Motel which closes the album, is a wonderful way to tie up proceedings; and Somewhere North of Nashville is the ‘Americana’ song he perhaps had in his head when the first inklings for this album was still a concept; and Chasin’ Wild Horses is Bruce Springsteen using metaphor and his vivid imagination at their very, very best; but for me…… and possibly me alone; I fell in love with the upbeat Texicana of Sleepy Joe’s Cafe the instant I heard it last week and I’m pretty sure I will still love it in 10 years time. For me, it’s actually the most commercial song here and I will be devastated if it’s not a Hit Single this Summer; and it also fits perfectly in my theory that this is the Soundtrack to an Imaginary Film about a drifter wandering around the backwoods and B Roads of the middle and Southern States, looking for ‘something’ but he doesn’t know what. Only time will tell where history will place WESTERN STARS, and I doubt it will be anyone’s Favourite Ever Bruce Springsteen album; but it should and will make many Top 10’s and my own Top 5*; and I welcome it as it’s a brave release from this Rock God; and a welcome one too.