Lawrence County THE FRAILTY OF HUMANS

Lawrence County
THE FRAILTY OF HUMANS
Self-Release

Americana Meets English Folk-Rock in a Country Tavern.

If ever there was an apt record title for ‘our times’ then, it’s The Frailty of Humans.
This album though; was conceived and recorded many moons ago; when Corona was a bottle lager and not the Plague!
Lawrence County is the new nom de plume for the magnificent but cumbersome DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show, who still hail from the Bagthorpe Delta on the Nott’s Leicestershire border in Middle England.
To some degree, this is a tale of ‘new name’ and ‘new sound’ although the ‘new sound’ is actually a well honed and crafted move on from what they have been doing for several years now.
Opening track They’re All There treads a very fine line between 70’s Folk Rock and 00’s Alt. Country; with a punchy beat and an articulate story littered with the band’s trade marked ‘play on words’.
Sadly, I can’t remember who’s who in this ensemble and their website and the accompanying flyer doesn’t help; but it’s apparent that the vocals (and harmonies ) are shared around to great effect; especially on the windswept Liquor in The Corn and Lights Go Out; with both sounding like they could and should have been recorded and released by a band from Oklahoma or Colorado; not a bunch of reprobates from the Heart of England.
But that’s the joy of Americana music; isn’t it? In many ways it romanticises an America that may not exist in 2020; if it ever really existed at all ….. but the music very much does exist.
While not exactly romanticising America; the insightful single Bye Bye Americae is obviously written ‘from the heart’ but obviously from afar; and hopefully natives of that mysterious land across the ocean will hear it and think, ‘that is spot on …… thank you’.
If there’s a theme behind the album’s title; ‘The Frailty of Humans’ seems to come across in the hauntingly beautiful The Loner, which must have been written after overdosing on The Freewheeling Bob Dylan and Solid Air by John Martyn; and it’s a similar sensation This is The End of It All; when the tempo builds and builds as the male and female voices intertwine and a shimmering violin soars above a very intense guitar/bass/drums.
While there’s plenty of sadness here; in I Don’t Sing Country Anymore awe find a glorious straight up Country song which will have audiences not just tapping their toes; but miming the chorus too.
With so much to choose from it’s not been easy to choose a Favourite Song; but there are two that I keep getting drawn back to; the rustic charm of This is How We Do It In This Country `is staggering for a part-time band; and the other, Lights Go Out sounds like tattered velvet, if such a thing was musical.
There really, really is a whole lot to like here; with exceptional storytelling alongside the stories themselves; but first and foremost is the way the production allows each instrument and voice to stand apart; while also coming together to create a rather majestic and genre defying musical experience.

Released March 27th 2020
https://www.lawrencecountymusic.com/
https://lawrencecountymusic.bandcamp.com/album/the-frailty-of-humans


Amy LaVere PAINTING BLUE

Amy LaVere
Painting Blue
Archer Records/Nine Mile Records

Emotionally Charged Songs For Lovers Who Find The World To Be a Messy But Beautiful Place.

As its title suggests, this is an album that finds itself on the darker side of the emotional spectrum.
The opening song is a cover of John Martyn’s “I don’t wanna know,” mixing Will Sexton’s deep torchy guitar Twang and Amy’s breathy, plaintive delivery to fine effect.
“No Battle Hymn” is musically more uptempo, with washes of organ, but is almost lyrically despondent until the very end, when the demand is made that; ‘We need a battle hymn in our hearts’.
“Girlfriends” takes a Latin Bossa Nova rhythm and warns the listener about taking emotional advice from others, “Don’t let your girlfriends – tell you what you need” – sage advice to follow your heart.
“You’re not in Memphis” continues the theme of personal completeness – over a gently soulful rumbling groove, Amy lists how the city is incomplete without a whole number of things – including her partner.
“Love I’ve missed” continues a similar theme of completeness in a relationship and expresses regret at resisting being in that relationship; appropriately, partner Will Sexton contributes beautifully decorative guitar fills that sparkle throughout.
“No room for baby” …with the repeated refrain of “Maybe I was waiting…to run out of wine,” builds on the personal reflection and analysis of a life that’s gone by.
“There’ll be no child for me” – probably the best menopausal song that I’ve heard, as it deals with time not being long enough to fit in all the things that we want to do, at the times we want to.
“Stick Horse” is a more humorous account of making do, with marvelous refrain – “I’m making out like a one-armed bandit”. Piano accordion lifts the tone and there’s a wistful smile in Amy’s delivery.
The second cover on the album is a brave take on “Shipbuilding” – slightly more up-tempo than both the Wyatt and Costello versions, Amy leaves the bass off the recording and is accompanied in a suitably sparse manner by accordion and backing vocals.
The title track ends the album and takes a philosophical viewpoint that “you’re painting blue on everything” – colour metaphors are used, however, to offer hope that the world can be viewed in more than just a depressing way. Thumping drums, accordion and deep Twang take the listener out with qualified hope.
An album that will find emotional connection with those who find the world a messy but beautiful place – “Painting Blue” itself creates beauty as it scours through the darkness for the goodness that is out there.

Review Nick Barber.
Released 27th March 2020

J Luke Cloutier BETTER MAN (Single)

J Luke Cloutier
Better Man (Single)

This came a bit out of the blue earlier in the week and caught me in an unguarded moment.
WOW!
What a song …….. and what a beautiful video.
I know very little about J Luke Cloutier apart from the bio that was originally attached in the e-mail. But I do intend following up for an album, when it comes out.

Based in Mystic, CT, J.Luke Cloutier is an indie-folk singer-songwriter with a “style [that] works both classic and contemporary cogs”. Having played guitar since the young age of six and grown up musically involved in various punk rock bands, Cloutier has finally become comfortable in his own skin releasing music that shares his life stories and experiences.
Often compared to bands like The Lumineers and The Head and The Heart, Cloutier’s solo music is a sharp departure from the punk-rock style he grew up on.
Cloutier sings simply and honestly, captivating audiences with classic folk-pop nuances, ebbing and flowing between light and heavy musical moods. His slight vocal rasp carries the folk-pop melodies to a place of vulnerability as he delves into the familiar facets of life through his lyrics.
“I don’t care about much else – writing songs brings me immense joy. I’m just looking for the sweetest melody,” says J Luke Cloutier.

Released Friday 6th March 2020
https://jlukecloutier.com/

Secret Sisters SATURN RETURN

Secret Sisters
Saturn Return
New West Records

Sparkling, Luscious and Mature Country/Bluegrass/Folk Hybrid.

Back in those heady days when I reviewed for an actual paper Magazine; I penned loving words for the first two albums by sisters Laura and Lydia; and it appears was contrary to popular opinion I actually liked that second release.
What else I remember from that period was that there was a slew of predominantly female sibling harmony acts; with each having their own distinctive styles; and most have subsequently fallen by the wayside.
The Secret Sisters themselves have had their own problems which must have made them consider ‘giving up’ …….. but, under the wing of Brandi Carlisle re-entered the fray in 2017 with You Don’t Own Me Anymore.
Then there is this; the sister’s fourth album and again recorded at Brandi Carlisle’s studio in Seattle.
I think most people who read my reviews will genuinely appreciate the beautiful harmonies that come from siblings; and here Laura and Lydia sing ‘as one’ to create a sound that actually sparkles on opening song Silver; which sets the tone for the Country/Bluegrass/Folk musical hybrid that follows.
A lot has happened to the sisters over the last 10 years; in and out of the Music Industry; but ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ comes through loud and clear in the mature writing within these songs.
It’s all too easy to lose yourself in their harmonies and the luscious production; but if you scratch the surface there are some wonderful stories here; Hand Over My Heart and Cabin instantly spring to mind as they straddle many musical fences; while Water Witch is something I’d love to write the storyboard for a video, then Direct it too.
I’m a nightmare for separating albums into pigeon-holes to suit my moods; but here I’ve found myself becoming totally immersed in the mellow ballads Healer in the Sky and Hold You Dear late at night with the lights way down low; but when turned up to 8 in the car they work just as well; but in that circumstance the brooding Tin Can Angel and Cabin come into their very own.
Perhaps the Secret Sisters and I have matured alongside each other over the last ten years; but I’ve found a glorious simpatico with just about every track here; but none more so than the marvelous Late Bloomer, which is both deep and meaningful and very easy on the ear ……. and the chorus is something I intend preaching to my Grandchildren;
It doesn’t matter when you bloom
It just matters that you do.

I can’t think of a better mantra for the next generation to take from ‘our music.’
I wasn’t sure if she would like this album; as it can be a bit dark and deep at times; but Mrs. Magpie now has this CD in her car and when prompted said ‘she liked it’ ……… which is far stronger praise than anything a music snob like me can ever muster.

Released February 28th 2020
https://www.secretsistersband.com/

Sonny Landreth BLACK TOP RUN


Sonny Landreth
Blacktop Run
Provogue Records

More Great Slide Guitar and More, From the Master.

Sonny Landreth has been making great music for as long as I can remember. While never hitting the mainstream; his name always popped up in friends and music journalists ‘best of’ lists and over the years he has played with so many big namesincluding Marshall Crenshaw , Eric Clapton and John Hiatt, plus he has many awards and was even Grammy nominated on two occasions, even though sadly, he didn’t win.
I don’t think this album will surprise any fans or anyone who even knows his music slightly. More zydeco influenced blues and always great playing. The album kicks off with the title track. A country/bluegrass riff opens us up to a tale of the open road.
Then Lover Dance With Me has a rocking beat and, obviously, some great playing too; plus what sounds like some mighty fine Hammond organ kicking in on this track too. 
Track three – Mule – has some great slide playing and sounds like a song about unrequited love, and a lazy mule! (But that may be a metaphor).
Another instrumental comes up next with a great riff and some very cool soloing and yet more lovely Hammond organ too; Groovy Goddess definitely has some plenty of groovy goodness. 
The album’s tempo comes right down on the ballad Somebody Gotta Make A Move. The narrator telling a tale of love gone wrong and his surprise that his love didn’t even realise they were past their ‘sell by date’.
Beyond Borders is another instrumental that hits the groove right from the off, with some lovely electric piano solo in the middle of this one.
Country blues slide is where we go on the next song, and a zydeco riff holds the song together, although Landreth’s beautiful country slide playing gives this a real feel good groove.
Next up is Wilds Of Wonder – a mid tempo rocker which to my ears at least has a seventies feel to it. I think it must be that wonderful Hammond organ again, that gives that sense of timelessness. A great song and nice vocal performance, and possibly a different sound to the rest of the album, at least until the sweet guitar solo.
Another instrumental  – Many Worlds – gives us a relaxed late night feel with some more lovely guitar playing taking us to the last song album on the album. 
The closer is another ballad with what sounds like the story of yet another failed love….. I know; this IS the Blues after all.  
Something Grand is not only the final song, but exactly what this album is all about. You know exactly  what you are going to get with Mr Landreth and this album doesn’t disappoint or really surprise in any way. Always beautifully played and as the old saying goes, ‘if it’s not broken, then don’t fix it’.

Released February 21st 2020
https://www.sonnylandreth.com/
https://www.mascotlabelgroup.com/sonny-landreth

Review by Ace photographer, Mr. Chris Harrison
http://www.chrisharrisonphoto.co.uk/

Christopher Paul Stelling BEST OF LUCK

Christopher Paul Stelling
Best of Luck
Anti- Records

A Varied and Fulfilling Americana Album

Christopher Paul Stelling – or CPS as I shall abbreviate him to save time typing – is part of the long tradition of American travelling troubadours. Only armed with guitar, voice, enthusiasm and plenty of talent he’s grafted his way across Europe and huge parts of his native America over the years. I once saw him play a thirty minute support slot to Lilly Hiatt in Brussels after he’d driven a couple of hundred miles to the gig – and he had a couple of hundred more to get to the next show.
The result of such dedication is the creation of a craftsman – CPS is a fine finger-picking bluesy guitarist, reminiscent in many ways of Sean Taylor. “Best of Luck” and “Thank My Lucky Stars” frame his mellow vocals and create a nice, warm full sound.
“Trouble Don’t Follow” affirms a positive worldview with a Motown shuffle on distorted guitar – a real crowd-pleaser.
“Until I die” leaves the fuzz plugged in but switches to a nicely discordant blues riff – again there’s the resigned attitude of the road warrior “you’re gonna keep on working until you die”, but tempered with the recognition that he’ll be loved for the same amount of time too.
“Made up Your Mind” and “Blue Bed” return to confident bluesy picking with CPS showing off fine chops especially on the second track.
“Something in Return” is somewhat Richard Thompson in guitar style, but vocally much more soulful; lyrically, CPS’ themes are still the universal ones of the balladeer – “love and the chaos and the coincidence”; but that’s no bad thing.
“Hear me calling” shifts things up a gear with stomping percussion, Rock God vocal and Angus Young licks, whereas “Waiting Game” brings in keyboards for a bit of Sweet Southern Soul – keyboards which hang around for “Goodnight Sweet Dreams” and a tender wish to “see you in the morning”.
Christopher Paul Stelling – to give him back his full title – has delivered a varied, fulfilling album that showcases his ability to hold the attention of the listener, a skill in no part formed out there on the road – he deserves your attention and attendance.

Released 7th February 2020
https://christopherpaulstelling.com/

Neil Bob Herd and the Dirty Little Acoustic Band EVERY SOUL A STORY

Neil Bob Herd and the Dirty Little Acoustic Band
EVERY SOUL A STORY
Cattlecall Music

Glorious Americana With Its Scottish Roots Showing.

Although it obviously has a rich musical history, why such a small country as Scotland continues to produce not just authentic but exciting Americana music is beyond me.
But it keeps churning out albums that I love and admire from some mystical conveyor belt North of Hawick and South of Lerwick.
Today it’s the turn of one time Coal Porter, Neil Bob Herd and his latest solo album.
The intriguing Rockabilly-lite, Bad Land opens the album in a toe tapping style; and Herd’s natural brogue takes you on a fabulous musical journey. It sounds like a very simple story of ‘dreams turned sour’; but I keep getting the impression that there’s a political metaphor in there too; is it about Americae? Scotland? Or possibly Post-Brexit Great Britain …. or it just might be a bittersweet love song.
That’s been the joy listening to this album; Neil Bob Herd is a fabulous storyteller, steeped in the Traditional Folk heritage, but he also has a Poets soul and a Rock n Roll heart.
I try my best to unravel songs; but it’s not always easy with Herd hiding a conundrum inside a riddle; but with a lovely melody and chorus making Light a Single Candle and Well Well, very easy to hum along to.
Others are far more ‘obvious’; but none the less fascinating; As Much As I Needed Too is a sad eyed observation on a long relationship that has drifted into complacence; yet the same man can deliver the gorgeous love song Exactly What I Wanted 15 minutes later!
Herd dips his toes into several musical ponds here; those last two could easily have been from the pithy pen of Nick Lowe; while his Scottish Folk Roots come to the fore on the Colour of History and later he straps on his Fender Jaguar (?) for a Postcard era Indie missive called Best Song; which may end up being my Song of The Summer!
We all know someone like the ‘characters’ in Coming Back as Jason and Book Inside Them. Mysteriously romantic figures in our lives who have an indescribable aura about them; ‘that’ bloke in the pub, or someone we used to work alongside; or it could even be an Uncle (or Aunt) you only meet at weddings and funerals; but always brings a smile to your face when they say, “That Reminds Me…….”
These romantic figures are best summed up in the line:
Frank was good with Treasure Maps
But no good at Crossword Clues
.”
Which then brings me to my actual Favourite Song here; Leave Only Love (Old Dog) which again will make you sit back smiling thinking of someone similar; I know that I have …… and that neat pedal-steel does the melody no harm at all.
In many ways this album proves that good music knows no boundaries; and just because Neil Bob Herd makes no pretence at hiding his lovely Scottish accent when he sings, doesn’t stop this having an Americana heartbeat.

Released February 14th 2020
https://www.neilbobherd.com/
Buy it here :- https://neilbobherd.bandcamp.com/releases

Nathaniel Rateliff AND IT’S STILL ALRIGHT

Nathaniel Rateliff
And It’s Still Alright
Stax Records/Concord Music

Putting Plenty of Heartbreaking Soul Into Country Folk.

Straight from the opening acoustic guitar chords on What a Drag, you know this is very, very, very different from Nate Rateliff’s previous albums with the Night Sweats.
While there were sad ballads on those albums they sure weren’t nothing like this …….. a deceptively beautiful, thoughtful and haunting song of loss and then hope.
I think it’s fair to say ……… Stax Records ain’t ever released an album like this before! And they should be proud of themselves for doing so.
Singer-Songwriter’s always write from the heart and generally deliver deeply personal works; and that’s exactly what you get on this album, which shouldn’t have but has still managed to surprise me in every groove and stanza.
Rateliff certainly has a distinctive voice; one that still oozes S.O.U.L even in this Country-Folk format; with Expecting To Lose and Mavis both threatening to break into becoming Power Ballad; but Rateliff shows great restraint; holding back from the brink to leave the listener gasping for breath.
But the all encompassing beauty of Rateliff’s kind words and deep storytelling shine brightly in Time Stands and You Need Me; with his Folk Roots showing like a ‘Bottle Blonde’ in the third week of the month on All Or Nothing and the tragically beautiful Kissing Our Friends which has been a contender for Favourite Song Status for several days now.
Apparently these songs began poring from his pencil in 2017 as a long-term relationship unravelled just as his career began to peak; then a year later his friend and Producer of The Night Sweats albums Richard Swift died; taking Nathaniel into a ‘dark place’ from which he wrote the title track And It’s Still Alright; which is as pertinent a song as you’ll hear on the subject of losing someone close to you; and you know what …….. it will make you smile.
Two songs really stand out; the finale the dark and brooding Rush On and the one that quite rightfully takes the RMHQ Accolade of Favourite Song; the absolutely wonderful All or Nothing on which the singer sounds uncannily like Harry Nilsson!
As something of a Night Sweats ‘fan and although I was aware of the laid-back Acoustic format this album would take; but it’s still been surprise after surprise as the singer uses his magnificent voice in a manner that has no right to be succesful; and the songs themselves? Boy oh Boy; can he right something touching, eloquent and eminently touching again and again.

Released February 14th 2020
https://www.nathanielrateliff.com/


AMA UK Showcase Festival LONDON

AMA UK Showcase Festival
various Venues Hackney London
January 27th-29th 2020

As is ever the case with these things, you can’t see everything, so this is just what I saw across the three nights.
Plus, the night prior to the event itself, Oslo Hackney hosted a charity fundraiser entitled “Americana Clash” – with the likes of Danny Champ, Elles Bailey, Terra Lightfoot, Judy Blank, Lady Nade, Kyshona, Irish Mythen, Felix from Curse of Lono, Michele Stodart (who was also bassist in the superb house band) Austin Lucas and Frank Turner provided a fun, exuberant opening, covering songs from The Clash. Special props to guitarist Jim Maving, who was every inch the rock star and filled Mick Jones’ boots superbly.

First night proper and I began in Night Tales – a frigid warehouse converted into a nightclub where Austin Lucas, who ended last year’s festival with a dramatic performance at Paper Dress Vintage continued where he’d left off – in the live setting, Lucas is adept at creating intimacy and engagement and produced another dynamic performance.

A trip across the road to Oslo for Pete Gow and the Siren Strings was next on the schedule – whose songs which had grown slowly on me on record, lifted and soared in the context of a live performance. Echoes of Richard Hawley, The Walker Brothers and Warren Zevon (There was a cover of “Lawyers, Guns and Money”) created a truly majestic experience. Unmissable.

Back across two pedestrian crossings and up the stairs into Paper Dress Vintage to catch Malin Pettersen. On this occasion Malin was backed by Darling West and so there was a much greater jangle than twang in her sound than I’d previously heard – she’s an artiste growing tremendously in confidence from when I first saw her a couple of years back; and her experimentation and willingness to take chances and diversify in her sound is only to be praised.

Next it was back to Night Tales and Amy LaVere, joined by her husband Will Sexton – Amy was clad in Gothic black lace; the noir-ish lighting suited her Twang and melodious dry humour. Amy’s got a new album “Painting Blue” coming out soon – it’s going to be worth finding, if not for her superb cover of John Martyn’s “I Don’t Wanna Know” alone.

Sam Baker has only ever been on the periphery of my listening habits, but his short set was one of those where an artist, seen in the live setting, suddenly makes complete sense. Razor-sharp human(e) storytelling silenced a rowdy bar. Lovely bloke too.

I was then followed by the awful choice of deciding between Robert Vincent and Amy Speace who were on at the same time at opposite ends of Mare Street. As I’ll be seeing Mr Vincent a couple of times later in the year, I stayed put and went for The Amy Speace option and wasn’t disappointed. Accompanied by the ever-fantastic and humble CJ Hillman on pedal steel and guitar as well as Ali Sperry and Kyshona on backing vocals for a couple of songs, this was a much bigger performance than the Empire Bar could contain. Epic balladry, heartfelt emotion and sharp wit provided an excellent conclusion to my first night’s listening and viewing.

Day two began with a non-festival bonus – Gill Landry and Malin Pettersen played half hour slots at Rough Trade East in the early afternoon. In the solo situation, the voice of Malin Pettersen is as pure a country instrument as you could wish for. Take away a band and all she needs is the acoustic guitar to frame the strength and melody in her delivery – her cover of George Jones’ “Take Me” was the icing on the cake. Gill Landry who followed is a Waits-ian storyteller who delivered enough intriguing tracks from his new album “Skeleton At The Banquet” to encourage further investigation.

The showcase Day 2 officially began in earnest for me by watching Croydon (Yes, Croydon) bluegrass band The Vanguards at the Empire Bar – credit to them for writing their own material and delivering it with enthusiasm.

I stayed in the Empire bar, (much to the annoyance of my Apple watch fitness reminders) for Dean Owens and the Southerners. Ably accompanied by Jim Maving and Tom Collison (who played keyboards and bass – at the same time…!). Dean featured songs from his forthcoming “Best of” release and lyrically and musically referenced the likes of the Faces in an enjoyable set.

A couple of hundred yards down the road to Oslo and up three flights of stairs to catch the two discoveries, for me, of the festival. I wandered into Oslo just as Jonah Tolchin was kicking off his set. Accompanied by Joe Harvey-Whyte on psychedelic, yet bluesy and subtle pedal steel, the two complemented each other in delivering a set with lyrical and musical depth containing shades of old blues and American folk-country.

Mapache were not on my radar at all – if the Louvin Brothers had been played by Bill and Ted, that might give you some idea – glorious harmonies around a single mic, flitting across a variety of west-coast styles, dude. They opened with a cover of New Riders of the Purple Sage “Lonesome LA Cowboy”, sang beautifully in Spanish and covered several Laurel Canyon bases inbetween. I’d downloaded everything I could find them before the end of the night. Hopefully they’ll be back soon…

I stayed in Oslo for the third gig in a row and this time it was Michaela Anne, who’d played the festival last year, but this year was brought in under the Yep Roc umbrella. With a crack transatlantic band, Michaela’s voice was appropriately high in the mix – pure country that could and should be massive, the set focused around “Desert Dove”, she’s another artiste who I’ve seen a few times over the last couple of years who’s really developing in the live arena.

I last saw Chatham County Line about ten years ago and in that time they’ve lost Chandler Holt to retirement, but the remaining trio have added drums to their touring line-up – it works well – they still have the killer harmonies and melodies, but with added punch. Playing a set that featured tracks from their “Shaking the Covers” release, they utilised their half-hour showcase slot wisely with a set that contained a lot of audience friendly material.

Last show of the day and of the festival for me was back along the length of Mare Street to the Empire bar to see Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra at the Empire Bar – reliable and as rambunctious as ever, they delivered a set of crowd pleasers (My French friend from Marseilles was particularly taken with ‘Une Bouteille De Beaujolais’). Somebody please put these guys on a chat show or in a sitcom!

All in all, a hectic but interesting three days – well done once more to all at the AMA UK. As ever, disappointed that I’m still not able to clone myself and see everything, but pleased that I saw as much good stuff as I did – and as a bonus, I broke my exercise records on the Apple watch!

https://theamauk.org/

Review and photos courtesy Photographer extraordinaire Mr Nick Barber.

Blackie and The Rodeo Kings KING OF THIS TOWN

Blackie and The Rodeo Kings
KING OF THIS TOWN
File Under Music

The Kings of Canada Take Americana to Infinity and Beyond.

While I’ve dipped in and out of the Rodeo Kings back catalogue over the years; it wasn’t until the Kings and Queens album that I really began to see why they are Superstars in their native Canada.
Then, of course their are the burgeoning solo careers of founder members Tom Wilson, Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing who all feature prominently in the RMHQ Back Pages.
Originally formed way back in 1996 this is the band’s 10th album; and #Spoiler Alert ….. is quite ‘The Zinger’ in many ways, corralling many and various forms of what we know as Rootsy Americana and adding their very own special blend of Canadian Rock and Roll to give us something quite extraordinary in a very ordinary genre.
The album starts with Hard Town, a Blues/Gospel hybrid which appears to tap into the current socio-political zeitgeist in a beautifully dark and moody manner.
Cold 100, which follows is more like what we would expect, a claustrophobic ‘driving song’; but with extra grit and robustness that features some sublime bottle-neck guitar (from Colin Linden).
It would be foolish to describe every single song; but there’s no filler here; every song is a stone cold killer; with the band switching track and mood with the greatest of ease.
There’s even a hint of Tex-Mex and Mariachi on the eminently danceable Kick My Heart Around; and the lyrics themselves ain’t too shabby either.
World Gone Mad is the type of Alt. Rocker that I love; a tightly packed melody, with everyone in the collective adding tiny bits to create a great big racket that needs turning up to 10 to get the best out of it.
As I wasn’t sent a Press Release (#sigh) I’m afraid to tell you who sings what for fear of making a mistake; but it’s evident all three take turns at the mic and each singer brings his very own strengths to proceedings.
Even though they have a Rock & Roll heart, every song here is carefully and calculatedly created to perfection; with the gently introspective Walking On Our Graves sung by Stephen Fearing still managing to have the power to surprise after all these years; as does the jangly Canadiacana of Medicine Hat which has some fabulous guitar breaks that reminded me of Duanne Eddy in his pomp.
With three Award Winning singer-songwriters at their core, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings songs are always not just articulate and grown-up; but accessible too ……. these chaps are educated to to the hilt; but ain’t no smart asses!
Selecting a Favourite Track certainly isn’t easy here; as every single song has it’s own merits that have touched me in one way or another in the last couple of days; but by today I’ve pressed ‘repeat’ a couple of times on two particular songs; Stephen singing the tender Grace is as good as anything on his recent solo albums (which I absolutely adore); and the addition of harmonica makes it sound like they’re sitting around a camp fire thinking of home.
The other is the title track King of This Town which just about shades the award of Favourite Track as it’s a collective effort and has a beat that will have you putting just a little too much pressure on the accelerator pedal when you hear it in the car. Think Tom Petty fronting The Band singing an old Neil Young song and you will be halfway there.
It’s still only January and I’ve already heard some great Roots Music, but it’s going to take something really, really special to arrive at RMHQ for this album not to be my Album of 2020.
In fact I’ll tell you how much I like it …….. I’ve actually bought a copy with my own money!

# Amended version

https://www.blackieandtherodeokings.com/
Released January 24th 2020