THIS SIDE OR THE OTHER
Black Hen Music
Founding Father of Americana Shows No Signs of Slowing Up.
Like many of my favourite albums from the days before the Interweb was in it’s ascendancy, most came via ‘word of mouth’ and David Olney’s Live in Holland CD was one of those and will still occasionally get dusted off and let me drift off into a world of wizened Americana characters that only he could possibly invent and bring to life.
His other album (EP?) that I love is Film Noir from 2011 which would have been the last time I saw him play live; which is a damn shame.
Then of course there are numerous individual songs that if compiled onto some kind of Retrospective may end up being a triple album; and then have to leave a couple out.
So; any new release is worthy of my time and means I have to put time aside to listen ‘properly,’ with no distractions.
Sadly that is today when I am painfully deaf in one ear, so will pretend this is a Mono release (joke.)
Opening track Always The Stranger, is trademark David Olney with a sweet Texicana tune masking a bittersweet love story that is sung by world weary voice; and it’s certainly the type of song that makes you want to sit back and wallow in whatever the narrator has to say.
Wall which follows has a Native American feel to it, and as the title suggests it’s about ‘building walls’ both real and metaphorical; which is a tender subject across the border lands of America and Mexico where many of Olney’s characters reside.
As you will expect from one of the founding fathers of of Americana; this is a song that has much to say about modern history as it does the past; intertwining both with grace and hope.
This imagery of ‘walls’ continues throughout THIS SIDE OR THE OTHER with the beautiful title track and Death Will Not Divide Us both using that invisible imagery on both songs, making them enjoyable on many different levels; but making you continuously change your mind as to what they are really about; which is quite some trick for a songwriter.
Even by David Olney’s standards I Spy is a dark song; almost ‘talking Blues’ poetic in a Kerouac style that has had me trying to unravel it’s many mysteries this morning; but have decided to just let it be what it is……. a riddle in a puzzle set to music.
Again; by David Olney’s ‘standards’ this is as much a Country album as he’s produced in many years; with Western imagery hauntingly making Stand Tall and Border Town sound like they should be on the soundtrack for a Tarantino re-imagining of Butch Cassidy.
For a man of his advancing years, David Olney can still write a love song that will send shivers down your back; which brings us to the two songs vying for Favourite Song Status; Running From Love with it’s ghostly harmonica accompaniment would easily win the title on many albums; but is just pipped at the post by Open Your Heart (and Let Me In) which will touch the hearts of every romantic who hears it.
Then, just when you think you know exactly where David Olney is coming from he throws a perfect curve ball with the finale; a simple and very rootsy song called She’s Not There…….hang on a minute!
Yes; it actually is the Zombies pop hit from the 60’s but turned on its head, with David doing for this what Joe Cocker did for With a Little Help From My Friends, way back when.
Perhaps I should change my choice of Favourite Track; but will actually keep this song our little secret.
Such is the quality and density of David Olney’s songwriting I could probably write a completely different review of these songs tomorrow and again next week. I will now leave it to you.
Released August 24th 2018
Ethereal, Claustrophobic and Misty-Eyed Songs For Romantics Everywhere.
Jeremy Nail’s last album My Mountain in 2016 completely took us by surprise at RMHQ and was hardly out of our stereo for months; regardless of what shiny new disc was meant to be reviewed; and obviously it made our Annual Top 10 that year.
Time moves on and a lot of misty eyed singer-songwriters have graced our office in the last two years; but every now and again; normally when I’m feeling sad and lonely (it does happen) and the handsome young Texan can always make me at feel at ease with the dark edges of the world.
Then early last week a plain brown envelope arrived just as I was about to leave for work, so I left it on my desk alongside 4 or 5 others; and there it stayed until yesterday when I saw a link to a review on Twitter!
Affronted at not knowing about this release I was just about to pen a stinging letter to his Press Guru when I finally opened the aforementioned padded envelope.
Everything was put on hold as I carefully slid the CD into the player and sat back nervous and expectant……waiting to see if he could come close to that previous Masterwork.
Perhaps it’s my memory or the change of producer or just a maturing but opening song Abiquiu has a warm glow to it; even though it’s a sad tale of a mythical town somewhere unnamed that is dying like so many others across America. But here, Nail finds a tiny glint of hope and ends the song “Here in Gods Country/There is no glory without suffering/You dance between the two/on a chance you make it through/Abiquiu” then the title is repeated over and over again as the hypnotic guitars fade to dust.
Yep…..the kid still has it!
The title track Live Oak follows and some very precise and neat guitar picking takes us in a more Countrified direction than I’d expected. OK it’s not YEE HAW Country; but Nail’s beautiful narrative about a real tree in Austin Texas which was deliberately poisoned but saved may or may not be a parable about his own life and illness, and that’s Country enough for me.
For me Jeremy has a poets soul and very distinctive voice that washes over me and seeps into my heart whenever I hear him; and if you have never heard him before you are in for a rare treat when you hear Rolling Dice, the deceptively gorgeous So Long Yesterday and more importantly Other Side Of Time; which will have you tilting your ears towards the speakers as he sings in a loud whisper as an ethereal guitar and some angelic drumming fill the spaces behind his carefully crafted words.
In this highly technological world I’ve played this album on a number of different systems including my olde Technics Hi-Fi which has been long banished to the conservatory but strangely; for me songs like Freedom’s Bell and Fields of Our Fathers sound best when played through the tiny and tinny speakers on my laptop; as it gives them an extraordinarily claustrophobic sound that suits the dark and brooding way the songs are delivered.
Not for the first time in recent years; this is a complete album with no nods towards commercialism; this is very much the way Jeremy Nail intended this record to sound and be pieced together and the result is both brittle and beautiful; with one song in particular taking my breath away the first time I heard it; and even today I’ve had to repeat it three times in succession and the story (alongside others) is still unravelling; and I’m sure it will for years to come.
So, the haunting Sea Of Lights is my Favourite Track here; but you will have your own and will cherish it like a first born child’s first mittens or shoes.
For what sounds like a simple Country-Folk/Singer-Songwriter album; according to the sleeve notes there’s a hell of a lot going on behind Jeremy Nail’s voice; but it’s testament to the delicate production, engineering and mastering that you hardly notice them at all; but would miss all those extras if they weren’t there.
Released August 17th 2018
Did You Dream (Single)
We get sent quite a few singles most weeks and the vast majority manage to pass us by in the blink of an eye; but this little beauty from Oklahoma based band Annie Oakley stopped us in our tracks; and we think it will you too.
It’s a taster for their debut album in October……so ‘watch this space’
“The award-winning band is fronted by twin sisters Sophia and Grace Babb on rhythm and lead guitars and vocals, with Nia Personette on violin and third-part harmony. Singing together since childhood, Sophia and Grace were given guitars and started songwriting at their mum’s urging after their father’s death compelled them to find an emotional outlet.
They were 14 years old.
A year later, they were joined by friend Nia on violin, herself no stranger to loss; she, too, had lost her father shortly before joining the band. Since the band’s formation, wise, emotive lyrics and sophisticated instrumentation have been hallmarks of their style.”
CRY TO ME (Single)
WAHAY! I’ve come home from a few days in the North Yorkshire hills with no internet access and just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, I found a new single from the legendary John Hiatt waiting for me……and I can’t wait to share it with you guys (and gals).
“John Hiatt is set to return with ‘The Eclipse Sessions’ on 12th October 2018 via New West Records. The 11-track set is the Grammy nominated legend’s first new album in four years. It was produced by Kevin McKendree (Delbert McClinton) and features Hiatt’s longtime drummer Kenneth Blevins and bassist Patrick O’Hearn, as well as Yates McKendree (Kevin’s 17-year old wunderkind son, who also engineered).”
“Hiatt places ‘The Eclipse Sessions’ in a lineage alongside two of his greatest works — 1987’s mainstream breakthrough ‘Bring the Family’, which sprung from an impulsive four-day session with an all-star combo led by Ry Cooder, and 2000’s ‘Crossing Muddy Waters’, an unplanned and largely unplugged effort that garnered a Grammy Award nomination and also set Hiatt on the rootsier path he’s still pursuing today. “The three albums are very connected in my mind,” Hiatt says. “They all have a vibe to them that was unexpected. I didn’t know where I was going when I started out on any of them. And each one wound up being a pleasant surprise.”
There’s a grit to these songs — a craggy, perfectly-imperfect quality that colors every aspect of the performances, right down to Hiatt’s vocals, which are quite possibly his most raw and expressive to date.
The Eclipse Sessions will be available across digital platforms, compact disc, vinyl, as well as a limited split metallic & white vinyl edition available at Independent Retailers. John Hiatt’s The Eclipse Sessions is available for pre-order now via NEW WEST RECORDS http://geni.us/jhtes?track=pr
John Hiatt’s songs have been recorded by Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Iggy Pop, Rosanne Cash, Eric Clapton & B.B. King, and countless others. He has received his own star on Nashville’s Walk of Fame, the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting, and has been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.”
John Hiatt The Eclipse Sessions Track Listing:
1. Cry To Me
2. All The Way To The River
3. Aces Up Your Sleeve
4. Poor Imitation Of God
5. Nothing In My Heart
6. Over The Hill
7. Outrunning My Soul
8. Hide Your Tears
9. The Odds Of Loving You
10. One Stiff Breeze
11. Robber’s Highway
Country Legend Shows the Hip Young Gunslingers How To Write and Sing Americana.
It’s odd to think that to me Jim Lauderdale was actually a ‘discovery’ at SummerTyne 2017!
This is his 30th full length album in a career that spans……well, I will be diplomatic and just say ‘a long time’; but he really did only hit my radar last year with two great concerts at Sage Gateshead and that wonderful London Southern album.
With so many great songs already under his belt it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Lauderdale just ‘phoned it in’ these days; but hey……this guy is a Professional and as the title song TIME FLIES, which opens the record proves, he can still not just write a cool contemporary song but deliver it in his own distinctive manner better than most of those hip young gunslingers that the music press slavishly adore these days. Time Flies is another timeless slice of Country/Americana music that could have easily been released in the laid back Country Rock days of the 70’s or 80’s; but his whip smart lyrics sound so very apt today to my ageing ears.
Jim can still turn his hand to what used to be C&W but we now know as Countrypolitan, most noticeably with the slow drawl of When I Held The Cards, the two-stepping Wild On Me Fast and of course the magnificent When The Cars Go By Fast, which is Country as Country gets these days, with a raggedy fiddle, some razor sharp pedal steel and a gloriously ghostly backing vocal from Lillie Mae Rische.
There are guests aplenty in the background (Chris Scruggs, Kenny Vaughan and Jay Weaver to name but three) but TIME FLIES is all about Jim Lauderdale as a songwriter AND Singer, with my priority certainly being the latter.
I’ve grown to love Jim’s voice in the last year; as it’s so distinctive and expressive as he gives relatively simple songs like Violet and It Blows My Mind a personality and gravitas I don’t think anyone else could achieve.
In the glorious tradition of Country music Jim isn’t afraid to have a bit of fun too, with the inclusion of the delightfully twee Slow as Molasses and the toe-tapping shuffle of While You’re Hoping; which will surely both go on to become staples of his concerts.
Then of course there has to be a Favourite Song, doesn’t there? For a few days I was definitely going to choose the finale, a gorgeous Country ballad that defies time and maybe even genre….. If The World Is Still Here Tomorrow; but the aspiring hipster in me is going for the Honky-Tonky, rolling and rocking Wearing Out Your Cool which may or may not be written about me! Probably not methinks; but I’m pretty sure Lauderdale has someone specific in mind; even if it’s not your favourite Rocking Magpie!
Unlike most of his contemporaries in Nashville Town these days, Lauderdale doesn’t live in the past bemoaning the passing of time since their glory days writing songs for Country Radio. Time moves on with indecent haste and Jim Lauderdale has adapted to the new Countrypolitain and Americana movements better than anyone else of his generation that I can think of.
Released August 3rd 2018
Curse Of Lono
AS I FELL
Submarine Cat Records
An Enigmatic Mix of Film Noir Americana, Indie-Rock, Psychedelia and Romantic Poetry
Oh Dear Lord, do I have a problem with this album.
You know what it was like when you you used to have a favourite band that no one else knew about; until their latest single got played on the radio and suddenly all of your school chums wanted in on the action, without acknowledging all of those lonely hours you put in poring over their lyrics on the first album sleeve ?
Well; that’s how I feel about Curse of Lono who are suddenly on the cusp of over night stardom (after spending decades in various guises traipsing up and down the highways and byways for little or no financial reward or acclaim.)
As regular readers will know, we fell in love with their cinematic and atmospheric mix of Americana, Gothic, Indie-rock, Psychedelia and romantic bedsit poetry (truth be told!) two years ago with the release of their debut EP which turned our world upside down.
Thankfully not a lot has changed since 2016 with their distinctive ‘sound’ perhaps being ever so slightly ‘bigger’ and ‘tighter’ and ‘more muscular’ than I expected on opening song Valentine; but that could just be the way Maestro Oli Bayton has mixed the drums and Charis Anderson’s threatening bass on this spooky and moody song about raging jealousy.
By Curse of Lono standards second track Way To Mars is positively jaunty; until you listen carefully and Felix Bechtolsheimer’s articulate prose are as dark and engrossing as anything that has come before.
As the handsome singer and songwriter, it’s all too easy to just talk about Felix in any review of their music; but the spine of Curse of Lono is very much the stoic bass playing of Charis Anderson (think John Entwhistle guesting with Cowboy Junkies) and the highly-developed power of drummer Neil Findlay; with guitarist extraordinaire Joe Hazell and the thinking man’s Brian Eno Dani Ruiz Hernandez on keyboards providing exceptional and occasionally Olympian flashes of genius on their respective instruments.
But, first and foremost it’s the songs and the way the band construct them that I love. Weirdly, both the title track AS I FELL and Kathleen reminded me of the beautifully fractured prose of 19th Century poets Thomas Hardy and Percy Bysshe Shelley which I fell in love with in the long haired days of my teenage years; yet The Affair could easily be the title music for a modern Film Noir Detective that wears a trench coat and Fedora and the bittersweet Blackout Fever sounds like U2 covering an out take from the first Roxy Music album!
Confused? You won’t be, as Curse of Lono have many influences in their work but positively don’t sound like anyone else I’ve ever heard; and I’ve heard a lot in the last 50 years.
Where to go to for a ‘Favourite Song’? Bloody Hell!
Bechtolsheimer has previously written deeply personal songs about his well documented Heroin addiction in the past; but nothing I’ve heard surpasses the raw and edgy beauty of And It Shows which finds a whole new level of darkness; albeit with some light at the end of a very long tunnel.
Tell Me About Your Love starts with a murmur and slowly builds to menacing close with Hazell excelling with his playing at the dirty end of the fretboard. Then on the deeply personal Leuven, the singer mines the pits of his soul to tell a tale originally passed down from his Grandfather about the surviving a train crash in 1954. The attention to detail is staggering and if the words don’t get you, the sweeping and swooping string section most certainly will drive you to tears.
But; one song captured my attention last year when they played it in concert and the love song, I’d Start a War For You with it’s Pink Floydian meets Ry Cooder undertones is something of a Masterpiece; which everyone concerned can be extremely proud of.
Like the finest whiskies, wines; and even beers these days this album and the songs therein are influenced by many and various other bands and songs everyone has encountered over the years; with many leaving a mark or a shadow; but Curse of Lono have created a very singularly distinctive ‘grown up’ sound all of their very own and more power to them for sticking with it; rather than going for the easy buck playing in soulless covers bands as so many others are forced to do.
Any or all success that this album brings to the quintet is well deserved, and I for one will be truly ecstatic for them; even if it means me having to sit at the back of a huge Arena every five years in London or Birmingham, rather than hanging out with them in the bar like we did at the Cluny!
Released 18th August 2018
SummerTyne Americana Festival 2018
What’s not to like about a music Festival in and around one of the world’s finest auditoriums featuring the music you love during a hot and sunny weekend only twenty minutes from your doorstep? Oh; and 50% of it is FREE!
Well, for some of my hipster-cool friends who appear to live in a) the past and b) Nashville… quite a lot actually; but to those doom laden miserabilists all I can say is “Shaddupa Your Face!”
While a tad smaller and more condensed than in previous years; there was still so very much to enjoy and write home about.
As I say every year SummerTyne is a festival of two halves, with two stages inside and outside the hall curated by the Jumping Hot Club and AMA UK which are FREE to the public and introduce acts of all hues and stages of their careers to the local music fans and cognoscenti alike.
During the afternoons and of course the evenings the three Sage concert halls buzz with proper World Famous acts singing on our door step; yet the entry prices don’t necessarily reflect that as Sage tends to subsidise the prices with a look towards bringing this music to the masses.
Sadly for me the ‘real world’ in the form of my day job took it’s toll early on meaning I missed all of Friday afternoon’s Home Fries performances, which took place inside Sage on the concourse stage as it was actually raining outside!
Later in the evening I cornered a couple of friends and even artistes who had been there and apparently Sam Gibson who opened the afternoon with half an hour or so of his own intense yet commercial take on Country songs went down very well with the freshly arriving fans; and local Country-Folk duo Jinski got the party started with their relatively high energy act.
Later RMHQ friend Gem Andrews made lots of new fans with songs from across both her albums and last minute substitute Sour Mash Trio turned this ultra-modern building into a Geordie Honky-Tonk with their blistering Rockabilly songs (or so singer Jimmi told me!).
Me? I arrived at 6pm just as Wandering Hearts from that there London Town were opening their own set on the AMA UK Concourse Stage and it was instantly evident why they are on the cusp of success with their easy on the ear harmony drenched Country-Folk songs. (I now need to re-address their debut album).
This year’s Friday night shows probably highlighted the strength and diversity that SummerTyne brings better than many other years; with Shawn Colvin who would normally headline Hall 2 actually opening for the legend Graham Nash in Hall 1.
Shawn was a powerhouse of intensity during her half hour; and while I only got to see and hear about 30 minutes of Nash’s performance (I was running around photographing elsewhere all night) his on stage charisma and understated songs set the audience to ‘stun’ and ‘smile’ as they left the venue later in the evening.
Personally I hung around Hall 2 as a new name to me, Texan Country singer-songwriter Charley Crockett totally blew me away with his simple and timeless songs that spanned the last 50 years of the genre; and any guy in a cowboy hat with a Texas state flag draped over the piano who includes a T-Bone Walker song has to be a good and indeed cool guy in my book.
The headline act in that hall was English Rockabilly star Darrell Higham and the Enforcers who had the immaculately dressed crowd dancing from the get go.
My long day and another impending 5am alarm call meant that I only stayed for half an hour; but regretted missing the rest of his set.
As I made my way out I spotted a few friends arriving for the closing act of the night and another one that in previous years would have been on my ‘gig of the year’ list; a double header of RMHQ favourites Rob Vincent and Yola Carter which had those friends still salivating the next day.
If there was one single act that I wanted to see it was Arkansas Dave who played twice; with the first being a 4pm set on the JHC stage; which I missed; arriving as I did at 4.45! But I did get to see the left of centre William the Conqueror at 5, who were a strange choice to close the afternoon as it sounded the type of music more suited to late at night. But what do I know?
Earlier a singer-songwriter from Liverpool called Tom Blackwell opened proceedings and as the day progressed six different people told me I had to check him out; and as happens at SummerTyne a mate actually introduced me to Tom later in the night and as we chatted a couple of advancing years tentatively approached him to tell him how brilliant he was! (I now have a copy of his latest cassette/album….. so watch this space).
Saturday night at SummerTyne was every inch as good if not better than previous years; starting with RMHQ favourites Curse of Lono opening for Steve Earle and mesmerising the rock crowd so much so there was a queue later at the merch table for their CD. They were followed by The Mastersons who I personally love to bits and again; on another night would have headlined Hall 2 on their own.
In between sets I ran across the concourse to photograph Natalie Merchant; she of 10,000 Maniacs fame. It’s fair to say she’s never been my ‘cup of tea’ but looking at the adoring faces of the sold-out crowd, told me that I was in the minority; but such is SummerTyne……it brings all of the disparate and loose ends together under one magnificent roof.
Before I went back into Hall 1 I nipped into the Barbour Room to see a few minutes of another recommendation; Jade Bird. It was difficult t pass judgement on the diminutive young lady in a red jump suit and battered converse playing a jumbo acoustic guitar nearly as big as she was; because her stories were nearly as long as both songs I heard. But; I did hear enough to know I need to investigate further.
Then of course there was Steve Earle and the Dukes!
I’ve been a fan for over twenty years and previously seen him live 6 times; being a bit underwhelmed the last twice……but tonight PHWOAR! He was back on form with that ‘fire in his belly’!
He opened the set with a song about and dedicated to the firefighters who were still busy putting out forest fires in his Home State then interspersed the ‘Greatest Hits?’ with fiery songs from his latest album and you could barely see the joins. Tonight Steve let the music speak for itself without too much literary interaction introducing them; and the world was a better place for it.
A long awaited day off meant that I could arrive at a sunny SummerTyne in time to see the immaculately attired CD Wallum Trio and their lovely tunes.
Next up were The Strange Blue Dreams, whose album we loved earlier in the year. The crowd seemed initially confused by the strange Gypsy infused Country-Folk, but quickly got into it and I spotted the first of the days dancers on Shipcote Hill.
As they finished I moved inside to see another recommendation on the AMA UK stage; Foreign Affairs. Hmmm; for me this sibling duo were a bit more Folk than Americana but they still went down very well with the packed to the gills audience.
Unlike previous years there wasn’t any ‘paid for’ gigs on the afternoon which left me at a loose end a couple of times; but that allowed me time for a 99 from the ice cream van and later a delicious burger and fries from one of the myriad of pop-up food stalls.
Back on the Jumpin’ Hot Club stage regular visitors Hymn For Her really ripped it up with their very own Hillbilly Country sound; much to the delight of the knowledgable and appreciative crowd.
Normally the closing act outside is something loud and rip-roaring; Blues Rock or Cajun acts being a speciality; but tonight it was the job of Southern Gothic specialists Curse of Lono to bring events to an end.
I had my reservations, and don’t know why but ……it worked. At last I could hear why I once heard them described as an Americana Doors; but that was only because the assorted keyboards came to the fore alongside Felix’s smoky vocals on a hot and steamy Gateshead afternoon.
As I’m prone to do I spent a lot of time looking at the crowd; and I’m pleased to announce that the 1,000 or so people present all looked very happy at the closure; and again there was a steady stream of people buying that CD.
Yet again I have to applaud the diversity that Sage Gateshead brings to an Americana Festival with Sunday night showcasing the very best in new, young Country Music in Hall 1 with Nashville TV star Sam Palladio headlining over the wonderful Sarah Darling who just gets better and better; and darling of the new movement Striking Matches who were so loud they would have been more suited to a Rock Festival (NOT FOR ME I’M AFRAID!).
Palladio? Interesting; as he is still looking for a specific style. He seemed more comfortable rocking out on electric guitar; but sounded more at home on the ballads from the TV series. Only time will tell which direction he ends up in.
Hall 2, just like the previous evening was completely sold out with people begging for ‘spares’ all afternoon.
I know very little of Iris Dement; but just like the Natalie Merchant audience the 1,000 or so in residence sat in stunned silence all night; but interspersing the songs with loud and long applause; and at the very end several had tears in their eyes during a long standing ovation.
My night ended with another twenty minutes in the concourse with Orphan Colours regaling the departing crowds with some delicious Country – Rock of the finest hue.
As I drove home I got to thinking again, “What exactly is Americana Music?” I couldn’t think of a definitive answer, and I doubt you have either; but Sage Gateshead have to be applauded yet again for trying and succeeding in providing some clues; and rather exciting ones too.
No Coward Soul
Broodily Intriguing Americana From the Backwoods of South London.
I’ve often heard the argument that Americana (and indeed Country Music itself) can and should only be written and recorded in America, by Americans; which is exactly the same ridiculous point of view from heretics who claim ‘White men can’t sing the Blues!’
For what it’s worth much of the finest Americana music that I love comes from a romantic vision that many of us have of America from either across the USA’s Northern border or from across the Atlantic primarily in the UK.
Which brings us to No Coward Soul, a 5 piece band based in the backwoods of South London and revolving around singer Brad Schmauss who hails from Alaska.
Apparently stalwarts of the burgeoning Americana ‘scene’ in London and the South I wasn’t aware of this band until the CD arrived; but opening track the gentle hazy Lighthouse which finds Schmauss at the piano and sounding not unlike Harry Chapin fronting Granddaddy as a harmonica wails over a bittersweet ballad.
The mood then lightens and the tempo certainly picks up to a Country trot on Fireflies, with Schmauss’s voice sounding very emotional as a young lady provides very sensual harmonies in the background.
When I first played this a fortnight ago I remember, pursing my lips and nodding along to that last song and then performing air-piano on the next; Bullet, which is something I haven’t done for a long time.
That ‘far flung romanticism’ comes to the fore on several songs, especially Nighthawks which is a delightful left turn with a clever lyrical twist and L’il Mikey Mountain which takes us on a quite dark journey that I wasn’t expecting.
Because I know No Coward Soul are British or at least based here; the sound they have is not like anyone else on the scene I’m aware of; as instead of going for a West Coast Soft-Rock trip or the more fashionable Byrdsian twin guitar sound; No Coward Soul are treading their very own path in a quite arcane fashion.
This is certainly ‘Americana’ but of a more curious persuasion with sings like Orpheus and Belly of the Whale harking back to the more literate works that prevailed among 1960’s and 70’s singer-songwriters and left us scratching our heads in our teenage bedrooms.
But there is also more than a smattering of straightforward American influenced Pop-Rock with 654, Holy Toledo and probably more than everything else Death n Texas reminding me of bands like Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants, as Schmauss and friends use melodies and bouncy tunes to ease you into a false sense of security but make you need to decipher the words too.
Just to be contrary I’d have preferred the short title track The Almanac to have started or closed proceedings as it’s a Film-Noir style poetic talk-over, rather than a song and would work perfectly well as an intro or exit, rather than being tucked away in the middle.
For an album that was initially difficult to ‘get into’ It’s been a joy on some recent late night drives home in the sultry midnight heat; with one song in particular capturing my attention; so the curious and Gospel tinged Gotta Believe becomes my Favourite Song.
This album won’t be for everyone as it’s a ‘grower’ and there aren’t any ‘radio hits’ to catch your attention. This is a good old fashioned Long Player that demands your full attention from start to finish; but, that said; don’t be surprised if by some quirk of fate that No Coward Soul go on to take the mantle from the likes of Coldplay or Snow Patrol; stranger things have happened!
Released 14th 2018
Uncle Brent & The Nostone
Salt & Lime/Sarah (single)
The crazy cats first got in touch with RMHQ last year with a single release BEST OF ME just as Mrs. Magpie had been rushed to hospital and we went into ‘lock down’; but thankfully they kept in touch; and here we have their latest Double A-Side single… Salt & Lime and Sarah.
The first thing that struck me was the amazing energy these guys produce on SALT & LIME while also managing to combine melody with a catchy chorus; something I haven’t heard for a long time.
It’s kinda cool too that they compare the lovely young lady Margarita to the alcoholic tincture of the same name.
Unrequited love is always a great subject for a song; and the guys don’t disappoint one iota; with a song that has one foot in Country and the other in Rock and would be perfect for daytime AM radio all Summer long.
The flip side Sarah’s Creek is more of a modern Americana Gothic Ballad; with a very dark message when the story slowly unfolds under an ever evolving and epic and cinematic backdrop, that will make your jaw gape.
I guess even in Texas it’s all too easy for bands to fall into the ‘covers trap’ but thankfully the likes of Uncle Brent & Nostone are sticking to their principals writing, performing and occasionally releasing their very own master-works and the world is a little bit better today because of it and more importantly these two wonderful songs.
Now; if only I still had a radio show!
Released July 14th 2018
Sons of Bill
OH GOD! MA’AM.
A Cerebral Musical Journey From Virginia to Seattle Via The West Coast.
This is another band who seem to have passed me by; even though I have three disparate tracks in my collection which I must have downloaded for my old radio show.
So it was with a completely open mind that I pressed ‘play’ two weeks ago.
Opening song Sweeter, Sadder Farther Away wasn’t what I was expecting at all, as it’s something of a sensory overload… with an ethereal piano at it’s heart and a melancholic voice re-telling something of a modern Gothic love story.
Firebird ’85 which follows is nearer what I was expecting from Sons of Bill; with it’s harmonies and Lo-Fi sensibilities filling a claustrophobic Alt. Country love song.
It’s difficult, but fun trying to describe the Sons of Bill ‘sound’ as it flits around like a sparrow; one minute it’s the jangly guitars of Where We Stand; then it’s almost psychedelic Pop with Before We Fall; which is immediately followed by the transcendental Alt. Country of Green to Blue; which begets Old and Gray which could be the Jayhawks or Wilco at their finest.
Although none of the brothers sound in the slightest like Michael Stipe; it’s been REM that has sprung to mind when I found myself becoming ensconced with Easier and the album closer Signal Fade, alongside several others too; but in their defence Sons Of Bill appear to have taken a lot of musical influences and distilled them through their Virginia moonshine still and come out the other end with their very own and distinctive style of intricate Alt. Country.
It’s difficult to pin-point what I like most about the Wilson Brothers aka Sons of Bill; is it the magnificent guitar playing? The harmonies that only siblings can truly produce? Or is it the deeply thoughtful songs that they write and sing so beautifully? Or is it a combination of all three? Probably the latter as the RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’ proves with Believer_Pretender. Played LOUD in the car it almost shook the wing mirrors off; yet it also proved the perfect soundtrack when oozing out of the speakers in the garden on a hot and sunny afternoon.
Oh God Ma’am is a harshly beautiful album that slip slides seamlessly from track to track, taking the listener on a cerebral journey unlike anything else I’ve heard this year.
Released June 29th 2018