Will Kimbrough I Like It Down Here Daphne Records/Soundly Music
Songs of The South in All It’s Poetic and Ragged Glory.
Regardless of the content, I’m always going to like a Will Kimbrough album, that’s just how I roll. As per usual I’d played this disc three times before I got around to reading the Press Release, and I’m glad I did…….. as it got to join some very oblique dots for me. First and foremost I never knew Kimbrough was from Alabama, and Lower Alabama at that; but you actually need to know that detail to ‘buy into’ this ‘Love Letter and Prayer to The South’ as he quaintly describes his beautifully motley collection of heartfelt songs. The shimmering opening track Hey Trouble is a good ole fashioned ‘bad luck’ Blues song wrapped up in an Americana melody and chock full of Kimbrough’s trademark guitar licks. What’s not to like? But….. put your emotional seat-belt on for what is to follow. The title track I Like It Down Here follows with the opening stanza confirming the theme of what this album is generally about, “She asked me when’s the bad luck stop When do we rise to the top? It’s awful hard work pulling up the rear.” It’s actually a love song of sorts; and one of those songs that will stick in the memory bank for years; coming back to haunt you when you least expect it. There’s so much going on in Will Kimbrough’s professional life, that he didn’t need to write and record a solo album; but with so much happening politically and socially in his beloved South and especially his home State of Alabama he appears to have got the itch to write about things in his very own and deeply personal manner, going back to his Roots basically. Oddly enough this gives him the opportunity to drop musical surprises, with the jaunty I’m Not Running Away, the Soulful – When I Get To Memphis, the thoughtful – Star, and indeed the wistful in Saltwater & Sand which I’d never have really expected in advance. On any other album his two Southern Blues Deluxe tracks, Buddha Blues and It’s a Sin would truly be deemed exceptional, with the latter starting with the gut-wrenching lines: “Innocent babies come into this world Singing their little hearts out Daddy says it’s a sin …… to kill Mockingbirds I have no reason to doubt”
Attach those stinging words to a a pleading singer and funereal paced N’Orleans melody and you have a song that will break every heart that hears it. But…….takes a deep breath….. there’s also a song here that is probably the cornerstone to this very record, with everything else depending on it’s unyielding power to allow them to breathe on their own. I feel guilty calling Alabama (For *Michael Donald) my Favourite Song here; because it’s much, much more than that. As you do when you first play an album the songs drift in and out of your consciousness but not this one…… phew, Kimbrough’s words and this horrible true story knocked me sideways immediatly. I don’t intend spoiling anything for you, but you simply MUST LISTEN to this song; it just might change your life a little bit. If Will Kimbrough had only ever written and created this one song, he could still die a happy and proud man indeed. When you check out the credits you will see a myriad of Guest Vocalists that are household names; but ignore that……. this is very much Will Kimbrough’s career defining album and his alone. I come from a mining village in NW Durham whose ‘reputation precedes it’ in our region; but it’s my homeland and I’m therefore allowed to openly criticise it….. but God Help anyone else who does; and that’s how this special songwriter and storyteller shows his love for his own Homeland ….. he’s allowed to tell it how it is, warts and all.
Powerfully Addictive Songs That Outshine Her Peers.
Even though the sun was shining outside this morning, it isn’t inside my head and I spent over half an hour pressing ‘play’, ‘stop’, ‘next’ on the RMHQ laptop in the vain hope of finding something to suit my mood and eventually I came across Danni Nicholls’ heartrending and sorrowful voice pining on opening track Wild Is The Water; and I knew that I’d found just what I was searching for. Hopefully my current mood isn’t the targeted demographic Ms. Nicholls is looking for; but that song somehow stung a chord for me; and the peppier Losing It which follows made my bottom lip tremor; if you get my meaning. Danni Nicholls has one of those pearlescent voices that have always been popular in Country Music and has the ability to capture the attention and make absolutely everything listenable, non more so than the melodramatic Hear Your Voice which builds and builds like a romantic thriller on TV. That’s not to say these songs, often co-written with RMHQ favourites Ben Glover and Robby Hecht, wouldn’t still be good in other hands; but Danni brings out that ‘something extra’ when she pours her heart and soul into Power To Leave and the haunting Unwanted. Danni Nicholls’ voice also has the ability to draw out a cinematic intensity in the deeply personal songs Texas and Hear Your Voice, without ever setting her volume control at anything over 4 or possibly 5; which is quite some feat. The one dilemma I have here is finding a slot to place the album into; Danni certainly sounds ‘Country,’ but in the Emmylou and Gretchen Peters area of expertise; and although Danni is 100% British, there’s an all pervading sense of enigmatic and Pure Americana in Ancient Embers and the wistful Wish I Were Alone, which also has a Folk tinge to it too. Hey! Who needs pigeon-holes? Good music is just that; good music. I’m a sucker for a straight up Love Song and the finale, Hopeless Romantic could easily have been written for me; yet Danni Nicholls sings it in the first person, so perhaps I’m not alone feeling this way, after all. There’s a beautifully timeless quality to all of these songs and Producer Jordan Brooke Hamlin should be congratulated too, for creating a wonderful musical landscape for Danni Nicholls to pour her heart out in song; and what great songs they are too.
Josh Ritter All Some Kind of Dream (Single) Pytheas Recordings/Thirty Tigers
The latest single taken from Josh Ritter’s forthcoming tenth LP (produced by Jason Isbell), ‘All Some Kind Of Dream’ sees this RMHQ Favourite at his best – blending heartfelt, introspective Americana with his renowned alt-country charm. Partner that with Isbell’s masterful production and you’re left with some of Josh Ritter’s finest work to date. The singer-songwriter’s tenth LP, Fever Breaks, is due for release April 26th via Pytheas Recordings/Thirty Tigers and as well as drafting the mighty Jason Isbell on production duties, he’s also got the multiple Grammy-winning musician’s 400 Unit band featuring on the songs too.
Anna Tivel The Question Fluff & Gravy / Proper Records
Razor Sharp and Intimately Epic American Folk Songs.
I had a bucket load of CD’s to write about that are being released for Record Store Day 2019, when I got my dates mixed up and dropped this release from singer-songwriter Anna Tivel from Portland, Oregon into the office CD Player, when halfway through opening track The Question I was stopped in my tracks and had to return to the start. Phew, blimey and even crikey! What a way to start a record of what is primarily pure and simple American Folk Music. While these songs are certainly ‘pure of heart’ they are as far from ‘simple’ as you can get. As there is such a brilliant ‘twist to the tale’ it would be wrong of me to talk to much about this amazing song, less I give the game away. But what I will say is the the character Anna sings about is going through something a close friend and colleague is going through too at this very moment, and both have brought me to tears. What a brilliant way to start any album. Then there is track #2 Fenceline, which I will come back to at the end as this sublime and ever so timely story is by far and away my Favourite Song on an album that will surely turn up in my year end Top 10. Then, there is track #3 the dark and ethereal Shadowland which could well have been written after the songwriter had immersed herself in Leonard Cohen’s Masterworks for a week or more, such is the way her flawless and poetics words join together and float mercilessly from the speakers. Then again, most songs here are in that vein too. I wish I had the time and space to speak longingly about every single song here; but I will leave those surprises for you to discover for yourself. What I will say though is songs like Minneapolis and Velvet Curtain aren’t anywhere near as delicate as Shane Leonard’s production and Brian Joseph’s engineering would have yo believe at first hearing. These songs, and the album as a whole demand your FULL ATTENTION…… as I will be asking questions later. On any other album the song *Anthony would easily be my Favourite Track. A ‘break up song’ par excellence and unlike any other I think I’ve ever heard. I’ll tell you how good it is; if Anthony ever crosses my path I will ‘Biff him on the nose’ for breaking Anna’s brittle little heart. Bastard! As a CODA to that song, there’s the incredible and punchier Worthless which if it’s not about Anthony it’s about someone very similar….. and he too will get a Biff on the nose too! The actual Winner of the RMHQ Favourite Song is Fenceline. Flipping Heck Mother! If ever there was a song that was ‘of its time’ it’s this one; while not exactly a protest song per se; this harrowing and epic tale of a man trying to cross the Mexican/American Border is so well told and created it is surely a song waiting for a film for it to be the soundtrack to. Anna’s story builds and builds alongside the notes her crystal clear voice reach until I found my fists had clenched tight. This is a song that should be on the school curriculum and played every day at morning assembly. Plus, if ever the likes of Joan Baez or Judy Collins were on the look out for a song that captured the current Zeitgeist they need look no further. I love discovering new artistes and music then having the ability to pass it on to you crazy kids…… and albums like THE QUESTION are the lifeblood of RMHQ and are what keep us going. So; instead of squandering your pocket money during Record Store Day or even on chocolate eggs for Easter; save your cash and invest it in THE QUESTION …… you won’t be disappointed.
*Hopefully Anthony is actually a fictitious character that Anna Tivel has made up for this song. I hope so for his sake!
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.
Las night I planned to review something completely different than this latest release by DL Rossi, but after not playing it for a couple of weeks, something drew me to the artwork on the cover and here I am, about to start gushing about this guy, his voice and his wonderful songs. I’ve said before ‘music effects you in many ways depending on your emotional state at a particular time’ and so it has been with this EP/Album this morning. I knew the songs from a couple of weeks ago; but this morning …… woah…. they have taken me not just by surprise but as a musical hostage! At first sight opening track This Road is a staple of the Americana/Roots scene; but there’s something quite magical about the way Nolan Rossi’s delicate production brings out the sadness; no…. the tragedy in DL’s voice as he pulls us through an emotional ringer, on a story of being in the middle of a real-life shoot-em-up and the mixed emotions such a trauma leaves someone with. For a young man, DL has had his fair share of troubles, from testicular cancer through a failed marriage that followed a nervous breakdown and not forgetting his dalliance with Punk Rock getting him ostracised from the Christian community he had belonged to growing up. But being a songwriter; those tattered emotions just make for damn fine songs; listen to the mournful Love Song A Sweet Thing to understand where I’m coming from! There’a blue-collar Alt. Country essence to Good Woman; you know the type that Steve Earle used to create and Rossi grabs that tarnished mantle with a new found fervour on this heart-crushing love song. On the deep, dark and soulful More Seconds Rossi takes to the acoustic guitar, and with the assistance of Mollie Parden and Corrie Bechler on backing vocals they combine to create a song worthy of Gram Parsons at his most eloquent. A drummer by profession, it’s no surprise that DL has a wonderful way with timing on these songs, especially so on Something Back which just sweeps you along like a leaf in the wind. With only 7 songs here; and each one has effected me in some way, selecting a Favourite has certainly not been easy; with Be Your Man and it’s inherent passion oozing from every single line being a contender; but I’m going for the song that should be a Radio Hit if it weren’t for the judicial use of the word ‘shit’ in every other stanza! Better is one of those songs that a writer only manages to write once in a lifetime; as many people listening to it will think ‘that is about me!’ In Better Rossi really encapsulates the raw emotions you feel when things are spiralling out of control;
“I lost a lot But I also lost myself Doing things I never thought I’d do And I’m broken up But that isn’t an excuse To be an asshole after a few.”
History shows that Rossi does come out the other side; with a fabulous song in tow too. Not everyone is so lucky.
I have a Gretchen Peter’s T-Shirt that says ‘Sad Songs Make Me Happy’ and that phrase neatly encapsulates my feelings about DL Rossi’s songs here; they are as sad as sad can be; but they are as intrinsically beautiful and tragic as can be but hopeful and eloquent too, and the world is a better place that they are available for the likes of me and you to wallow in his prose.
A couple of weeks ago my friend Richard Leader played something, I can’t remember what on his radio show Leader’s Americana Pie; and someone commented how ‘leftfield’ it was…… oh how I chuckled. You want leftfield? I’ll give you a whole shelf load of leftfield if you think you can handle it….. let’s start with the latest release from famed Producer, singer-songwriter and bandleader with 14 of his own previous records already under his belt, Mr. James H Mathus aka Jimbo Mathus. I will tell you how good opening track You Are Like a Song is. Last Sunday I was sitting engrossed as I edited some photos when Mrs. Magpie walked in on me; scowled and muttered “What the Hell is this?” HA! Well, the song itself isn’t actually easy to describe as it’s a conglomeration of rinky-dinky piano inside a Gospel song from the backwoods of Kentucky …… think Dr. John’s orphaned younger brother? The title track Incinerator follows and is even weirder (albeit in a good way!) and thankfully the lyrics are wisely not included; as they are a bit bonkers….. but hey; who cares? It’s a mind-blowing three and a half minutes and that’s all that matters. Mathus and producer Matt Patton (from the Drive By Truckers) go on to challenge the listener in every which way; with tracks that could be film scores (Really Hurt Someone and Never Know Till It’s Gone spring to mind); and I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if either or both were to turn up in some windswept Scandi-Noir thriller sometime soon. Personally I love the way Mathus throws little musical hand-grenades around left , right and centre not caring what collateral damage they do to the listeners senses and sensibilities. The spine chilling Country song South of Laredo is immediatly followed by the luscious and multi-layered Been Unravelling then the whole house will shake on the Voodoo rallying cry of Alligator Fish; which will make Tom Waits and Jay Hawkins fans giddily excited. There’s a duet of sorts here too, with Lily Hiatt sharing harmonies and a verse on Sunken Road which is probably as cool a slice of Americana Music as you’ll hear this year…… I promise. Where the Hell to go for a Favourite Song? Should I just close my eyes and stick a pin in? Nope….. I’m going for two songs of polar opposites; which is what this glorious musical gumbo is all about anyways…… so the delightful Country & Western Swing of Give Me The Roses ties with the sombre and unsettling Incinerator which I mentioned earlier; but it could have been anything really; because if you get through to the end track …. you ‘get it’ and you ‘get’ Jimbo Mathus; not everyone will.
I love it when every now and then I come across an album that’s unexpectedly fun, rocking, and even daring. Dirty Power, by the band Girls on Grass, is this season’s winner in that category. Guitar-fueled songs with driving bass and pounding drums aren’t exactly a new thing in the world of “Americana,” but Barbara Endes writes and sings with such self-assurance and bravado that you have to sit up and pay attention. “I’m in like with a chick who likes good music” she declares in “Friday Night'” and the interplay between the guitars is so seamless and thrilling you have no choice but to like it, too. The first track, “Down at the Bottom” is part power pop, part Bakersfield, with smooth harmonies, and quite a bit of intended cheekiness amongst the twin guitar attack. “Into the Sun” reminds me of L.A. band That Dog in a myriad of good ways, while “Street Fight” is easily the equal of the toughest of Jen Trynin’s nineties tunes. With songs such as “Commander in Thief” and “Because Capitalism” it’s not hard to tell which side of the political fence they’re on and Endes happily pulls no punches while never forgetting that it’s easy to bitch and moan in a song, more difficult to make it rock out effortlessly while doing so, and then to seriously rock out. One thing I rarely get enough of, if done right, are instrumentals. Maybe it was all those years listening to surf rock in my Kentucky bedroom, the nearest beach hundreds of miles away, but it’s always been my opinion that a good instrumental tells a story just as much as a traditional song with lyrics does. And did I mention that there’s not just one rocking instrumental on this album, but TWO? Two solid rock instrumental gems that convey the fun this band must be having on stage. Their website tags them as “cosmic country surf garage” and that’s about as apt as it gets.
Adam Carroll I Walked In Them Shoes Gypsy Shuffler Records
Raising the Flag and Bar For Texas Songwriting
Adam Carroll is a highly respected Texan songwriter, now releasing both his ninth, and tenth album this year, 2019. Good Farmer, an album he recorded with his wife, Chris Carroll, is being released next month, but before that you can check out I Walked In Them Shoes, recorded with some help from Lloyd Maines and Pat Manske. These songs on this particular album were all recorded in one session, and Adam’s spoken introductions give them a definite demo feel which works to good advantage here. It’s hard to go wrong with simple arrangements, sparse decoration, and a ‘vocals up front’ mix, and it also helps if the songs are as solid as these are. I doubt that a fuller arrangement on any of them would add anything, so why tamper with purity? “Iris and the Lonesome Stranger” is a familiar story told well, while “My Only Good Shirt” could be a song about passing the torch of songwriting and musicianship along. “Crescent City Angels” takes inspiration from New Orleans, but it’s the title song that got my attention the most. “I Walked In Them Shoes” eschews a traditional arrangement, and Carroll’s vocal take leaps over the finger-picked guitar runs throughout. This is definitely the most rock ‘n’ roll song on the album, fueled by attitude, a sincere feeling of accomplishment, and learning to roll with the punches. There’s been comparisons of Carroll to songwriters such as Guy Clark, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, and others, (Some even say he’s the best Texan songwriter ever. I’m not gonna go there, because Alejandro Escovedo has pretty much all of them beat!) but mostly these tunes remind me of lesser known songwriter Bob Frank’s best ones, though Carroll is assuredly less dirt floor than Frank, and probably not as barefoot either. What I do hear is Carroll’s gift for imbibing these songs with a genuineness of emotion and sincerity. He’s not as edgy as Townes, nor as funny as Prine, but he does has a gift at storytelling, and enough solid melodies to keep it interesting.
Very Articulate and Contemporary Americana With It’s Roots in Scotia.
As regular readers know I like to do things backwards; listening to the music before reading the Press Release, so I don’t have any preconceptions; and in this case it worked a treat as Ms. Reid has a famous father and an even more famous mentor who guests on a song here; (*whom I will name at the end) and may have ‘turned my head’ had I known this in advance. Opening track Amy, was apparantly written several years ago and in a simpler form won the prestigious Nashville based ‘International Song Contest; and it’s easy to see why it’s been selected to open this rather wonderful album; but why such worthy judges would pick it out of 160, 000 others! There’s a hint or two of other more established Americana songwriters in it’s construction and the way Roseanne breathlessly sings her narrative; but this is a top notch Americana song in it’s very own rite. Thankfully the quality doesn’t stop there; Roseanne covers an array of modern topics in her writing; but there’s a definite romantic thread running through most of the more memorable ones. Now, songs like the bouncy Me Oh My and Take It From Me aren’t ‘all lovey-dovey’ but only a confirmed romantic at heart could write these two songs, in my opinion. Songs about missing a loved one while on tour or working abroad are commonplace in not just Americana Music but are one of the cornerstones of Country and in Miles Away the warble in Roseanne’s cracked voice captures the very essence of how you feel in these circumstances; and in it’s own way heralds a new talent that is headed for great things. As is another won’t of mine, I listen to a lot of new music in my car; and when the 9th track Out in Space came on I found myself frowning and staring at the CD Player …….. Roseanne Reid is Scottish! Who knew? Prior to that she had sung in a non-denominational voice that simply had to come from Northern America surely, possibly even Canada …… but no, she actually comes from Dundee via Edinburgh and originally the Kingdom of Fife! While everything else errs on the Folkier side of Country and Americana; this beauteous couple of minutes shows Roseanne’s true Roots, and they are firmly embedded in the soil of Scotia. The following song turned my head 359 degrees in the other direction as I immediatly recognised the grizzled male voice duetting on the majestic Sweet Annie. Yep; that is/was Steve Earle! Even without him; it would be a stunning song; but now it has added gravitas that will surely get it airplay across the airwaves and interweb. For a debut album there are some very classy and it has to be said, mature songs here, with a couple really capturing my attention from day one. Take It From Me is a gorgeously swinging Country toe-tapper with a bit of New Orleans ‘swing’ in the background; making it come from the mould of someone like Laura Cantrell; as to some greater or lesser degree is Heading North; which certainly belies Ms Reid’s tender age. I very nearly went for Levi as my Favourite Song here, as it sounds a bit like it could have been a lost Band track; it isn’t…… but it’s certainly good enough. But no; with Mrs Magpie just having a ‘big birthday’ and our wedding anniversary just around the corner; I’m riding shotgun to Roseanne as she croons I Love Her So to her own life partner; and sitting here now wallowing in the emotion drenched 3 minutes I’m not sure if it’s Reid’s heartfelt words and vocals or Teddy Thompson’s exquisite and sensitive production that I like best; but put all three together and I now have a swelling in the heart region o my chest. In many ways this is a very understated album; and deliberately so as it leaves the listener to just wallow in the beauty of not just Roseanne Reid’s golden voice, but her rather wonderful songwriting too.
*Roseanne’s father is none other than Craig Reid of the Proclaimers and her mentor is Steve Earle whom she met at his songwriting workshops).