Amilia K Spicer
WOW & FLUTTER
Free Range Records
Windswept, Brooding and Heartbreaking Lo-Fi Americana.
This album very nearly got missed as it was already a couple of months old when I received it; but my trusty I-Phone picked a lovely song out by random just after midnight on a rainy Saturday night/Sunday morning and I was immediately smitten.
That song is the breathy and emotional This Town, about someone who wants to leave ‘This Town’ but knows they won’t so needs to find a reason to stay.
WOW & FLUTTER actually opens with the type of easy on the ear Country song that catches you out; as you peel the layers away and it becomes a real tearjerker. On Fill Me Up Amilia sounds like she could be Linda Ronstadt or Emmylou in another life; and for an opening track it’s a keeper.
This is definitely Country Music…..I think, but with the emphasis on the Lo-Fi spectrum of Alt. Country…..if that makes sense.
Shotgun is dark and cinematic with a pedal-steel sounding like a wistful train as it accompanies the whispering singer; and later on Down To The Bone a gentle piano tinkles away as Amilia’s voice sounds ghostly and ethereal on a brittle love song.
It’s a similar feeling with the fragile Windchill; which makes Margo Timmins sound like Janis Joplin.
When a song starts with “my love is a train wreck/a train wreck” you just know it’s a Country song…..right? Well this one certainly is; but so slow and intimate you will find yourself leaning into the speakers to catch all of the words.
A big part of me wants to call that first song This Town my ‘favourite’ but truth be told; now I’ve played the album 6 or 7 times in full that accolade must go to What I’m Saying. A dark, reflective pot-boiler that brings everything that is brilliant about WOW & FLUTTER together in 5 emotional minutes.
As I said earlier, I first heard Amilia K Spicer just after midnight as the rain poured down on the windscreen; and that is the very best accompaniment I can imagine for the songs on this album for broken-hearted lovers everywhere.
Released April 28th 2017
READY THE HORSES
Hard-working Troubadour Shows His Class On A Big Label Expedition.
I first saw and met Jarrod Dickenson in 2012 when he supported Bap Kennedy in a North London Pub. Without getting over-excited about ‘discovering the next big thing’ there really was something different and even special about Jarrod’s songs and their delivery that meant I actually introduced myself to him. He didn’t have any with him that evening; but when he returned home he sent me a copy of his debut album THE LONESOME TRAVELLOR which I favourably reviewed in Maverick magazine later that year.
A couple of years later he got back in touch to ask if I’d like a copy of his next EP, Songs From Willow Street; which can be found in the RMHQ Back Pages; and I still have the lovely handwritten note that accompanied it.
Jump forward to Christmas 2016 and Jarrod again got in touch to say he had a new Album coming out in the Spring and would send a copy ASAP.
Nothing arrived. Not the biggest surprise in the world as he is constantly touring or supporting all kinds of acts somewhere in the world; but I was still a touch disappointed.
Then a month or so ago a decent sized PR Company got in touch hailing Decca Records new signing…..Jarrod Dickenson who would be releasing an exciting new album in September!
So; I’m thrilled to say that after many years of hard graft; Jarrod Dickenson has hit the Big Time…..but has the music changed?
Hell Yes! It’s got bigger, brighter and better.
Opening track Faint of Heart finds the warmly toned Dickenson fronting a classy Country ensemble on a tearjerker of the finest proportions, and any worries that I had dissolved after less than a minute.
First and foremost a storyteller, Dickenson is a mighty fine songwriter too; honing in on the tiny things in our lives but painting extraordinarily cinematic pictures with his words too.
In The Meantime and Take It From Me are quintessential sad Jarrod Dickenson songs; but with the addition of ‘this band’ are taken into a whole new stratosphere; taking the listener on a beautiful journey along the way.
I’m a ‘fan’ and have seen the singer perform several times; but nothing prepared me for the beauteous intimacy of Your Heart, with it’s majestic guitar picking that accompanies his rich singing voice; but while originally from Willow Street; it’s now delightfully gussied up as a duet with his wife Claire; which gives it a lovely haunting quality too.
California treads a similar path; with the addition of some ghostly pedal-steel on the saddest of sad love songs……certainly one for late at night, as you can with the darkly bittersweet, fightin’, fussin’ and makin’ up Take It From Me too.
As you will know from the hundreds of reviews on RM I do like a good story; and that’s probably Dickenson’s finest strength; storytelling……which doesn’t get better than on the darkly Gothic tale Gold Rush; which has a David Olney quality and then some.
For the uninitiated and fans like me alike; there are pleasant surprises around every corner especially my favourite song here……the gentle Country song A Cowboy. One of the simpler arrangements on the album; but sometimes simplicity is the best way to get a story across and this story is absolutely bloody gorgeous.
For once the money that a record label has thrown at an artist appears to have been well; spent as band (guitar, gentle bass, tsch-tsch drums, pedal-steel and a swirling organ) actually flesh out Jarrod’s songs and stories in the most delightful manner.
Released September 29th 2017
We first ‘discovered’ the talents of Jarrod Dickenson back in 2012 when he supported Bap Kennedy at an intimate gig in THE BOOGALOO BAR,in Highgate, London.
We’ve sort of kept in touch over the years and loved his EP Songs of Willow St. and have waited impatiently for the release of a full album ever since.
That album READY THE HORSES was planned for release in March this year; but he was then ‘picked up’ by Decca Records who are now going to give it a ‘big push’ when it is finally released on 29th September.
Until then here is the fabulous single California.
Proper Records/Frontier Records
The Quintessential American Storyteller Returns To His Folk Roots.
To the knowledgable few, alongside his friend and compatriot Dave Alvin there’s a bloody good argument that he helped invent what we now call Americana Music.
Straddling the feint paths that lie between Country, Folk and even the Blues at times, this Los Angeles born singer-songwriter and artist with a poets heart has previously released 27 studio albums since 1976 and his last release, the epic Rose of Roscrae was the RMHQ album of the year in 2015.
In recent years Tom certainly hasn’t been afraid to experiment and take risks with his music; but as the record title implies; here he goes back to what he does better than anyone else these days; writing incredibly complex stories and making them sound beautifully warm and simple.
The few bars of an olde worlde Jazz song which opens the album certainly made my ears prick up; but 30 seconds later Tom’s expressive trademark drawl enters the scene accompanied by Joel Guzman’s haunting accordion on Up In The Old Hotel; a wistful look at a series of dark love stories from The Chelsea Hotel, first made famous by Leonard Cohen and suddenly the world is a better place again.
This is followed by the beautiful Leaving El Paso; a typical Russell romantically cinematic song about a minor character living in the Borderlands; that makes you feel that you are sitting in the shadows watching the scenarios he describes play out before your very eyes.
I’ve just had to delete the last paragraph four times because I typed ‘typical’ then ‘trademark’ and then couldn’t think of a better way to describe track #3 I’ll Never Leave These Old Horses; and those two words actually ‘typify’ every single song here; as only Tom Russell can write a dark Country-Folk song like this and make it instantly his own then follow it with a love song to the Welsh writer Dylan Thomas on The Sparrow of Swansea with equal aplomb then close the record with a sad Folk song about a man he saw a glimpse of but never met in The Rooftops of Copenhagen. These stories Russell conjures up from his imagination, in theory are poles apart in style, genre and content but all come together in one big, bold and beautiful musical tapestry.
Like a million other Americans Tom is very proud of his Irish lineage and includes the beautiful All on a Belfast Morning; Tom reciting a poem before describing the Northern Irish capital in a way I’ve not heard before but in a way it certainly deserves. Like the poets of old, Tom finds beauty in the unlikeliest of places and makes what most people see as ordinary become extraordinary in his hands.
Later he sort of revisits Rose of Roscrae territory with the trilogy The Day They Dredged The Liffey – The Banks Of Montauk – The Road To Santa Fe-O which starts with a ‘talking Blues’ then drifts into traditional Country-Folk territory without the listener noticing.
But Tom Russell has always been at home in the mythologies of the American West and the cold recesses of Europe’s history; and both are at home on a Tom Russell record…….it shouldn’t work; but it does.
As he is prone to do these days; Tom dips back into his memory bank for The Last Time I Saw Hank; and yet again the images he paints with words had me closing my eyes and picturing the scenarios in my mind.
The CD/LP release will have two ‘extra’ tracks, the nine minutes plus Country-Blues of Scars on His Ankles but more importantly; alongside Joel Guzman’s wistful accordion playing Tom and Joe Ely reconstruct Tom Thumb’s Blues until it now becomes two old men looking back at life, and the final line “I’m going back to New York City/I Believe I’ve Had Enough” has never sounded more apt in the songs’ 50 year lifespan.
RMHQ Favourite song? Not easy at all on a Tom Russell album; but I will point you towards The Light Beyond The Coyote Fence; which is Tom Russell doing what Tom Russell and only Tom Russell does best. In theory it’s a ‘nothing special’ story about a musician living along the American/Mexican Border but lines like “I’ve got a pocket full of guitar picks/that’s my trade sir/suits me better than a gun Mister;” leave me mystified at the genius of the man; and his character even gets to compare his own dusty homelands with touring, “how many rest stops on that A1 Motorway/The road to Scotland/The Angel of The North/That great old Iron Lady seems to say sing your songs kid/ For all That You Are Worth.”
After all these years I still marvel at the skills of musicians; especially troubadour singer-songwriters and non more so than Mr Tom Russell.
Released September 8th 2017.
Fairy Dust Sprinkled Southern Alt. Country.
What more can I say but my head still spins with excitement whenever I play Pickxen’s album PICKS n Vittles; so when John and Laura sent me their latest 6 track offering I did a little ‘Snoopy dance of joy’ in the kitchen!
The accompanying letter explains that this is actually a fascinating project; as the couple are releasing this ‘raw’ EP to raise enough funds to bring in a band a producer to ‘fill out’ the songs for release as a bona-fide album later in 2017……and I urge you to buy both; you won’t regret it.
Opening track ‘Cher Knee is the type of late night Country ballad that I dream of hearing in a darkened bar in the wrong side of town, as Laura Monk goes into heartbroken Linda Ronstadt, Lena Martell or Lynn Anderson mode, with some searing Redd Volkaert guitar licks in the background.
Oh dear…….I immediately had a lump in my throat as Laura’s immaculate voice wobbles on the repeated opening lines of “I read your letter in the rain” and it stayed there for the next three solid minutes. Unless there’s a puppy involved, Country songs don’t get any more Countrier than this……heartbreak by the numbers, and tears by the ton.
I’ve Fallen Away is another beautiful bittersweet Country Love Song that will grab you by the heartstrings then tug and squeeze them until you can’t draw breath; but you won’t care as Laura Monk truly has the voice of a teenage Country Angel.
As a man without a musical bone in my body, songs like BS for Breakfast amaze me. The opening line “Brussels sprouts for breakfast” and the Twangtastic guitar certainly caught my attention and the story of a brokedown relationship that follows is another 100% Classic Country song of misery and love and can only come from the heart; can’t it? Well….not exactly according to John’s letter, and without taking too much of the ‘magic’ away, the Brussels Sprouts bit is accurate then he let his imagination run away with him…….brilliant and I can’t do anything other than salute such a vivid imagination.
John Monk’s imagination runs riot on the final track Cedars of Lebanon, where he read a biography of WB Yeats then got to thinking about the Lebanese flag which features a Cedar tree which is a metaphor for the eternal qualities of life…..then he goes on to write another exceptional Country Song. How does he; and his like do it? I don’t really care; but it certainly enriches my life.
Which brings us around to my favourite song here; the Mavericks influenced Another You; a timeless melody and richly eloquent song that will appeal to Country, World and Pop Music fans alike if it was to get played on the wireless.
As I said at the beginning, the purpose of this disc (and downloads) is to raise funds for a more fleshed out, bigger sound for the proposed album; but as an un-musical music fan I would urge caution as in my humble opinion these stark and occasionally raw performances allow Laura’s voice to bring these often beautiful stories to life in a way that could get lost in the hands of an over enthusiastic producer.
Just a thought.
Released July 1st 2017
The Blues Knows No Borders With Music This Good.
The old adage of ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get’ surely applies to Trevor Sewell from Sunderland in the NE of England.
Even Trevor would admit to being a ‘journeyman musician’ up until only a couple of years; making a living from his work but very much under the radar like so many others out there.
Then quite randomly in 2013 he received a letter saying he was in the running for a prestigious Blues Artist of the Year Award in Hollywood! Blow me down if he didn’t go on to win it; and after 30+ years become an overnight star!
Jump forward four years and he is about to release this; his fifth album in five years, recorded in Nashville, of all places with some friends; of whom a couple of names are well known around these parts; but more of that later.
Opening track Someday instantly made me sit back in my swivel chair……it’s the Blues Bub; but with the addition of a fiddle has a sweaty Country feel to it; and I like it a lot.
This is followed by Mountain of Gold; a tender ballad that wouldn’t be out of place at the Bluebird Cafe or one of the more hip venues in East Nashville; as opposed to the Working Men’s Clubs of the North East where Sewell served his apprenticeship.
I’ve said before I truly admire artistes that are prepared to step out of their comfort zone and Trevor does that from start to finish here. Of course his distinctive gravelly voice (think Chris Rea after 40 Benson and Hedges) and his top quality guitar playing make this a Trevor Sewell album; but who among his many fans (old and new) would expect some light night sultry Jazz tinged ballad like the beautiful 7 and 1/2 minute duet with Janis Ian? Me neither; but with Ms. Ian tinkling the ivories, Trevor Brewis’ rock solid drumming and Sean O’Bryan Smith on double bass sounding as if they have just left the Bluenote studio; it’s the perfect late night accompaniment for lovers everywhere.
Older fans will love and newer ones impressed by the fire and brimstone guitar and vocals on Stand Next To Him and You Ain’t What I’m Looking For, as both are Blues Rockers of the finest order; and with Matter of Time shows Mark Knopfler how it’s done.
The biggest surprise for me is the high standard of songwriting here; not that Trevor was ever a poor songwriter….far from it; but the ballads Tear It Down and Blanket of Hope which is full of glorious female harmonies on the chorus too, take him into a league I never expected from a man primarily known for his guitar playing.
It’s probably because it’s the the biggest and best surprise here in every department, from stinging guitar interludes to the swirling B3 Hammond via a tight Muscle Shoals type rhythm section that the delicious duet with Tracy Nelson, Long Time Ago easily becomes the RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’ on CALLING NASHVILLE (An Americana Adventure).
Trevor’s trademark ‘Blues’ is the thread that weaves throughout the album; but he delves into many golden pots to create a true Americana Adventure for a starry eyed Mackem Lad.
Released July 25th 2017
Jan 1st – June 30th 2017
The Rocking Magpie website has been going for two and a half years and despite a couple of personal ups and downs continues to go from strength to strength.
As a for instance when I checked the stats so far for 2017 we have already surpassed the figures for the whole of 2015 and should go past 2016 by the end of August!
Here’s our Top 10 Reviews for the first half of this amazing year.
1) Ian McNabb – STAR, SMILE, STRONG.
2) Danny and The Champions of The World – BRILLIANT LIGHT (Exclusive video & CD combined).
3) Chuck Prophet – BOBBY FULLER DIED FOR OUR SINS.
4) Rodney Crowell – CLOSE TIES
5) Colin James – BLUE HIGHWAYS
6) Robert Vincent – I’LL MAKE THE MOST OF MY SINS
7) Bruce Foxton – SMASH THE CLOCK
8) The Haley Sisters – ALWAYS BY MY SIDE
9) Mark Eitzel – HEY Mr. FERRYMAN
10) Stephen Fearing – EVERY SOUL’S A SAILOR
Thank you all for your continued support.
Gleefully Pushing The Boundaries of Americana.
Apart from the albums I receive to review, for many years now I’ve used a site called Noise Trade to discover new and exciting artists across a broad musical spectrum. One of these acts was a young lad called Noah Guthrie who (as far as I understood) did quirky cover versions, in particular I’m Sexy and I Know It. With so much going on in my life I never bothered doing any research, so didn’t know that he was an established singer-songwriter and a regular cast member on the TV show GLEE!!!!!
Thankfully I didn’t know that latter snippet of information before I received and listened to his latest and second album; or the ‘music snob’ in me may have taken over.
THE VALLEY gets a hefty kick-start with a the peppy opening track Razor Blade; a major surprise for me with an clever story set to a fiery Alt. Rock soundtrack; with Guthrie’s distinctive rasping vocals sounding perfect for AM Radio.
Guthrie manages to go Country Rock on Love You Now; which follows, with his voice managing to swoop and soar like an Americana Eagle circling over the Nappa Valley while the band plays on.
It’s not just Noah’s voice that has taken me pleasantly by surprise (I can’t think of anyone else to compare him too apart from Robert Pant!!!) but his storytelling and way with words is extraordinary; with Till It Thunders and Beautiful Crime not just showing his gentler more acoustic side; but also his poetical with words too.
Mary is the cornerstone that the album revolves around; gentle acoustica alternating with a full-on Band full of shoe-gazing intensity supporting Guthrie’s breathy and breathless bittersweet love song. What’s not to like?
Which brings me to the battle for ‘favourite song’…..will it be the introspective brittleness of Beautiful Crime or the smart as a whip, yet brooding melancholia of title track The Valley or perhaps Calling Your Name when Noah sounds like he could break into tears at any moment; but no I’m going for the co-write with RMHQ favourite Matthew Perryman Jones, Pardon Me. A breakup song so powerful yet fragile at its core, you genuinely feel his pain with him, and will instantly hate whoever has broken his heart; such is the power of music this good.
The overall ‘flavour’ of the Valley takes me back to those early days when Americana was known as Modern Country and albums by The Jayhawks, Grant Lee Buffalo, Giant Sand and the like were pushing the boundaries of what we knew as ‘Country Music’.
Released June 23rd 2017
Jumping Hot Club
Friday 15th June 2017.
For a man who only three years ago went to at least two gigs a week ( 7 in 10 days once!) tonight was only my fourth gig of the year, so quite a big deal.
As is my won’t these days I quietly made my way into the Cluny basement as the applause was dying down for the first song from ‘The Geordie Dusty’…..’Little Mo’ Scott.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen Mo over the years and tonight she was making her annual visit to the JHC; and with hindsight was the perfect foil for headline act Chastity Brown.
Mo regaled us with her inimitable versions of Ry Cooder’s Borderline, Norah Jones’ Lonestar and a gorgeously sleazy rendition of Love Me Like a Man; a hit for Bonnie Raitt but written by JHC favourite Chris Smither.
These songs (and others) were interspersed with self-depreciating jokes about age, eyesight and memory; much to the ‘mature’ audience’s obvious delight.
As the set came to an end, there were cries for “more” from the crowd and after a very quick con-flab between Shippy the Promoter and Geoff the MC Mo was told she had time for one more song. Surprised, she had a chat with her guitarist and multi-instrumentalist drummer they decided on the beautiful I Cry Myself To Sleep; and this crazy world seemed a slightly better place.
After a very short break I nearly missed Chastity Brown’s sultry opening song After You from the magnificent Back-road Highways.
The singer, looking a vision in white (inc. a white bow-tie) was on fine form from the start, greeting friends in the audience as she introduced the second song Colorado, explaining why it had taken her four years to follow up the previous album….”I’m from Tennessee; we do thing real slow there.” She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
The next hour and a half was packed with a mix of songs from both albums, including a really passionate delivery of If You Let Me and the sweeping landscapes of Drive Slow on album now sounding tightly wrapped and almost claustrophobic.
I can’t go any further without mentioning guitarist Luke Enyeart who provided heartbreaking accompaniment on his Bigsby enhanced emerald green Gretsch guitar.
Highlights are nearly too many to mention; but a song dedicated to her Mother back home in Tennessee featured the Cluny Evangelical Choir on harmonies and a new song, played solo called I Ask For Nothing really, really showcased her extraordinary voice.
The show came to an all too brief closure with her beautiful interpretation of the Nina Simone song Baltimore which tugged at the combined heartstrings of the audience.
One more thing; Chastity took the time half way through to thank Promoter Graeme Anderson for “taking a chance on her four years ago, when she randomly sent him an e-mail alongside 20 others in the UK asking for a gig.” Only Shippy and a guy in London responded (I was at that gig and suitably star-struck immediately) and ……the rest is history.
LIVE at CARNEGIE HALL (An Acoustic Evening).
Guitar Virtuoso Discovers His Brilliance Knows No Bounds.
Joe Bonamassa probably divides opinion among Blues and Rock fans more than anyone else has for decades. His fans can be like acolytes hoovering up everything he releases and taking any criticism personally; whereas plenty of others dismiss him out of hand as a ‘soulless showman,’ and in my humble opinion both sets are wrong.
Prolific, he’s now released 24ish albums in 17 years and while I’ve only been reviewing them for 5; my own feelings towards him and his music have certainly evolved from being in the latter camp – once describing him as a ’21st Century Alvin Lee – the fastest guitar in the West’ but more recently I’ve come to admire the way he constantly challenges himself and allows himself to evolve in a way I’ve not seen since the cusp of the 1960’s and 70’s.
My biggest criticism of Bonamassa’s earlier albums was that a) his voice was a bit too thin and b) his guitar playing was too fancy and long winded which were both highlighted on his many Live albums.
Both wrongs have been righted in recent years when he has ‘discovered his Roots’ and slowed things down; and LIVE at CARNEGIE HALL (An Acoustic Evening) really showcases the ‘new’ Joe Bonamassa.
The album opens with a ‘bang’ as the band throw everything they have at This Train and the addition of International artists playing a multitude of acoustic instruments make it almost unrecognisable from the album version. With so much going on behind him it should be impossible for Joe to make his own acoustic guitar stand out; but….. boy….does he manage it; and his now slightly worn-in voice sounds wonderful.
As the applause dies down a much gentler almost mystical sound filters from the speakers and again we get a completely updated version of Drive, which is taken into the territory I would normally associate with the legendary John Martyn.
More Classic Bonamassa songs are also turned inside out and come out the other side all the better for this refreshing treatment; never a lover of Dust Bowl I sat transfixed twice as I finally got to listen to the words; and I now I get to revel in some delicious bottle neck playing on the intro to Black Lung Heartache; and song really does become the atmospheric epic it always threatened to be.
As expected on previous live outings everything revolved around Bonamassa’s brilliant and technical electric guitar playing; but even allowing for the fulsome instrumentation included here, the songs are allowed to breathe letting the listener hear the beautiful stories that make up Get Back My Tomorrow and the gentle Mountain Time.
There are a couple of songs here that I wasn’t previously aware of, in particular Song of Yesterday from his Black Country Communion days; and the inclusion of some female backing singers and Bonamassa’s all-powerful acoustic playing had me thinking of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen album; and probably that is as good a reference point for this record as any, especially because of the inclusion of Reese Wynans on piano.
I last heard Hummingbird on the Live at The Greek album and yet again; it is virtually unrecognisable in this beautiful format, and all the better for a ballsy Rootsy/Americana treatment that truly showcases Bonamassa’s skills on an acoustic guitar.
Unlike his previous Live Albums where everything plus the kitchen sink is thrown at the finale; tonight things slow down real, real slow for a beauteous rendition of The Rose which closes the night with more of a sigh than a scream, and works perfectly.
The production throughout is crystal clear with every instrument and voice being heard in it’s right place, behind Joe Bonamassa’s masterful guitar playing and endearing singing.
Favourite track? That’s easy…..How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? An age old tale that is still a soundtrack for 2017 and Joe Bonamassa sings the bones out of it!
There’s next to no chit-chat between songs but if you want that there is also a DVD available too which has the addition of a Behind the Scenes film, with Joe talking about guitars (fancy that!), lots of photos and an extra song, and for audiophile there’s even a 3 x LP release too.
Released 23rd June 2017