Ben de la Cour HIGH COST OF LIVING STRANGE

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Ben de la Cour
HIGH COST OF LIVING STRANGE
Flour Sack Cape

An Americana Road Trip Where The Memories Will Remain Forever.

Here’s an odd thing; a PR sent this to me even though he’s not even working on promoting this album simply because he thought that me and you, my readers would like it.
How nice is that in this cynical world we live in?
It was all a very long time ago but I actually reviewed Ben de la Cour’s album GHOST LIKE in 2011 for a once important magazine; and if memory serves me well; I liked it a lot and forecast a career of money, awards and baubles on the horizon for the young Londoner out of Brooklyn.
As soon as I heard opening track Dixie Crystals I knew why Adam thought I’d like this; De la Cour has a warm and interesting voice; unlike most others and his song-writing is eloquent and detailed plus his band skirt Southern Gothic and modern Hill Country music……what’s not to like?
Baring in mind Ben’s background (born in London and raised in Brooklyn NY) there’s a distinct whiff of Magnolia, Jim Beam and the Everglades that are all pervading through these songs; not least the gorgeous tale Uncle Boudreaux Went To Texas; which is about a man who the narrator sits at his feet listening to and wallowing in his tall tales; but as his own father tells him; “The closest he ever got to Texas/was listening to Willie’s Greatest Hits.”
We’ve all got an Uncle Boudreaux haven’t we?
Tupelo is a darkly atmospheric tale from the Nick Cave book of songwriting; if the Australian had been born in the Southern States; with a shimmering fiddle scaring the bejasus out of me every time it comes into the light from behind some deeply unsettling drums, bass and guitar.
It’s probably best that the more feint hearted don’t listen to this song on their own.
Funnily enough a fiddle comes to the fore again on the next song; Guy Clark’s Fiddle which, partly because I love Guy Clark but mostly because it’s a clever and sensitive song about ‘hope in a broken world’ that I probably needed to hear that first day; and again today if truth be told.
I can’t remember very much about that 2011 album; but I was obviously correct in highlighting Ben’s songwriting skills because he sure can write a doozy. Face Down Penny is certainly the type of song that Johnny Cash would have wanted to sing on his American Series; and if I use my imagination it’s the type of song I associate and love by RMHQ Favourites Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picot; which is praise indeed.
Trying to select an actual Favourite Track isn’t as easy as it should be, as the final track here The High Cost of Living Strange under normal circumstances ticks every box we have for said honour; rumbling and very dirty guitars; an understated bass that still rattles your spine and De La Cour sounding almost demonic on a helluva Country-Gothic song; but then again any album that has a song like Company Town on it has to be very special indeed.
The first time I played the album I nearly missed Company Town, but after three minutes in I had to go back to the beginning and listen intently; as Ben’s tale of dark deeds in a dying Blue Collar rural town; or is he actually comparing America itself to that dying town is disorienting and brooding from start to finish; and rightfully takes the Favourite Track Award.
To some degree Ben de la Cour has instilled everything I love about Americana Music into his 8 songs; taking us on a road trip from the Rust Belt to the Delta and back again and the time goes by in the blink of an eye; but the memories remain with you forever.

Released April 2018
http://www.bendelacour.com/

 

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Parker Millsap OTHER ARRANGEMENTS

parker millsap

Parker Millsap
OTHER ARRANGEMENTS
Thirty Tigers/OKRA HOMA Records

Classy Heavy Americana from Oklahoma’s Houses of the Holy.

While this is Parker Millsap’s third album and he is vaguely on my radar as a friend is a big fan; I don’t actually own anything by him; so was looking forward to discovering what Greg goes on about.
WOAH there! I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like the riff heavy opening track Fine Line; so much so the album has only been an occasional listen in the car over the last month or so; only a couple of songs at a time until last week following a particularly tough shift at work when only loud music would do; although this is far being a LOUD album.
So; back to Fine Line. It’s actually a really powerful story played out against some muscular bass and drums with a searing guitar from Millsap himself that nearly over shadows his rich singing voice at times; but always pulls back from the brink.
That late night journey was just perfect too, for the second track a slower and indeed heavier track called Your Water and a little later the razor sharp Let a Little Light In, which has some really clever couplets in the lyrics.
Now I’ve got my head around where Millsap is coming from I’ve come to love the slower, slow burners songs Coming On and the title track itself OTHER ARRANGEMENTS which straddle the Power-Ballad and Heavy Rock line as if it were barbed wire.
For a handsome young man; there’s something world weary in Millsap’s voice that I find soothing especially on the folk tinged Singing To Me which features Daniel Foulks fiddle playing alongside Millsap’s intricate acoustic guitar strumming; as does the gossamer like finale Come Back When You Can’t Stay.
There’s a lot of light and shade on this album with the gorgeous love song Tell Me juxtaposed next to the dark and smouldering Gotta Get To You; which will tug at even the leatheriest heartstrings out there.
In it’s own way I think I’ve fallen in love with this album; which may sound a bit contrary from someone who grew out of Rock Music over 40 years ago; but the way Parker Millsap delivers She and Coming On sent shivers down my spine and made that late night car journey go by in the blink of an eye.
So, it’s ‘Favourite Track’ time and that’s not been easy as a few songs now fit the bill; but I’m going for………drum roll………the delicate Singing To Me, which really showcases a songwriter at the top of his game; but more importantly a singer who trusts his own voice to deliver a narrative in a very personal manner; and the young man deserves to be applauded for such bravery.
Maybe it’s me; but …….and this is a good thing, there’s a distinct scent of Led Zeppelin here; especially the way Millsap’s singing style echoes Sir Robert Plant, and mixing loud, fast and tight rockers with delicate Folk tinged intros and songs themselves comes straight out of the Zep play-book; but don’t worry I actually like this album for exactly what it is; a very contemporary Rock album from the heavier end of the Americana spectrum that will please all ages and sexes.

Released UK & Europe 15th June 2018
Released US of A & Canada 4th May 2018

http://www.parkermillsap.com/

RJ Comer ONE LAST KISS

rj comer

RJ Comer
ONE LAST KISS
Growling Moon Music

Soundtrack For A Hot August Night in a Tennessee Backwater.

It’s fascinating what music can do for a person; be they a listener like you or I but actual musicians themselves; as it seems that the ‘power of music’ has been a golden thread in RJ Comer’s life be it his time as a violent addict or later after cleaning himself up and discovering God; as an attorney……music got him through some dark times.
Now, many years later he’s a full time singer-songwriter living in the Tennessee woods making music and occasionally touring the United States , North, South, East and West to popular acclaim it has to be said.
The rather snappy Under a Lover’s Moon opens proceedings with some neat fiddle and guitar interjections complimenting RJ’s rich and expressive baritone voice. The song itself is one of the few love songs I’ve heard recently which is written and about a genuine couple of mature years who actually seem to like each other; which gives it an extra star at RMHQ.
Obviously not everything is as upbeat as that opener; but that’s not to say that the songs from the darker edges of life; House Grown Cold and Still Doin’ Time spring to mind don’t have a brittle beauty to them too; as they do.
After playing in bar bands for many years, it’s obvious RJ Comer can turn his hand to most genres of popular music; but he generally sticks to the Country-Blues format I normally associate with Townes, Guy and Rodney; but he’s got a lot more strings to his bow than that as Desert Mama and If I Could Be Water prove; with something of an early Neil Diamond ‘feel’ to them at times.
Like all the great singer-songwriter’s Comer digs deep into the darkest corners of his memories for his songs and comes out the other end with such raw delights as Bad Day in Paradise and You’d Drink Like I Do which are both perfect for the wee small hours of the morning when you feel that the whole world is against you……and it might be; but RJ Comer let’s you know you aren’t alone.
The record closes with the title track ONE LAST KISS; a sad old tale with a truly mournful fiddle accompaniment about the singer’s father but could easily be interpreted by any of us to describe many relationships that have haunted us too.
Hmmmm; where to go for a Favourite Song’? There have been a few contenders; not least the first and last tracks and more than once I’ve played Let’s Run on repeat several times, but I’m going out on a limb with the nigh on Gothic Cain’s Blood, which not only describes Comer’s life that straddled good and evil in equal quantities; but again this is the mark of a great songwriter; could describe most of us and not least myself over the years, which is quite some achievement.
I love music in many formats which is why I do what I do with this website; and every now and again a really rare talent comes along like RJ Comer; and if he’s not too old to grasp the nettle…….he could and should be a Major Star in the Americana world if there is any justice.
Or he may just enjoy his anonymity living with his wife in that Tennessee backwater; and who can blame him?

Released 15th June 2018
http://www.rjcomer.com/

Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore DOWNEY TO LUBBOCK

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Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore
DOWNEY TO LUBBOCK
Yep Roc Records.

A Gripping and Loving Look at Americana Music’s Roots and Beyond.

Oh Lordie LORD! How excited was I when this dropped through the RMHQ letter box two weeks ago?
(V.E.R.Y is the correct answer.)
Although best friends for well over thirty years their various touring and recording schedules have meant that they have never actually got to record together; until now. But my friends the long wait is well worth it.
One of only two new songs here, the title track Downey to Lubbock opens the record in a way Americana lovers have only dared dream about as the duo trade verses on an autobiographical tale of their long-standing friendship. If this had been the only song they ever recorded together, they could still be very proud men.
But no……more, and dare I say it; better is yet to come.
As you’d expect knowing both men’s history the mood seamlessly glides between the Country Rock of the opener to the more laid back Folkier end of the spectrum on Silverlake which follows with Gilmore purring the delicious lyrics.
Dave and Jimmie both have their own sparkling back catalogues to choose from for an album like this; but they have decided to delve into the last 100 years of Roots Music for this fascinating and often sensational collection of songs; with many being brand new to me, with KC Moon and Get Together managing to sound like they were written yesterday not decades ago.
I’m a big fan of Dave Alvin so the songs he takes lead vocals on stood out on the first few listens; with the jaunty take on July, You’re a Woman and the Tex-Mex waltz of The Gardens tugging at the old heart strings like he did on those early albums that I still cherish.
But the biggest pleasure I’ve had listening to Downey to Lubbock has been the rediscovery of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, especially on the rip-roaring Blues stomper Buddy Brown’s Blues and his dark re-imagining of Woody Guthrie’s Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) that have now stolen my heart and sent me back to his records after too many years at the back of the cupboard.
But it’s when the two come together that these songs really, really become memorable with Walk On Walk On becoming a real foot-stomping Honky-Tonker and who’d ever have thought a hoary Folk song like the Memphis Jug Band’s Stealin’ Stealin would get me tapping my toes and nonchalantly singing along to the chorus; but Dave and Jimmie’s marvelous duet managed to do that with ease and was an early contender for ‘Favourite Song’ status; as was the red hot re-invention of Lawdy Miss Clawdy; but that accolade goes to the second of their new songs; Billy The Kid and Geronimo. WOW! I guess Alvin had a big hand in the writing of this epic Cowboy tale; and the world is always a better place with new Dave Alvin songs in it; but as each singer takes the roles of Billy and Geronimo you just end up sitting back and wallowing in one of the finest Americana/Country/Roots/Folk songs you will ever hear……honestly, if you even vaguely like this genre listen to this song and tell me I’m wrong.
I dare you!
You really know how clever these two are when they can turn the Youngbloods Pop Classic Get Together into a sad Country sing-along which is just perfect for the crazy world we live in today; and that’s exactly what they do.
The Press Release describes this indomitable duo as ‘Seasoned Veterans’ and I guess I can’t think of anything better as both Dave and Jimmie have been on the Americana/Roots scene since before it even had a name; but what it doesn’t say is that they sound as good; if not better than ever in 2018 and their choice of songs here is absolutely sublime, with not a single one sounding out of place regardless of the decade that it was originally penned and recorded in.

Released June 1st 2018
http://www.davealvin.net/
https://www.jimmiegilmore.com/

Gretchen Peters & Kim Richey Sage Gateshead, 23rd May 2018

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Gretchen Peters & Kim Richey
Sage Gateshead
23rd May 2018

So far in 2018 I’ve listened to some amazing albums from artists across the globe, criss crossing all of the Roots genres. Two of the very best have come from long term RMHQ favourite Gretchen Peters and a new name to me, Kim Richey; so the opportunity to see both ladies at the magnificent Sage Concert Hall in Gateshead was too good to miss.
As I stood beside the stage, camera in hand I was surprised to see that people were taking their seats behind the stage on the third tier of Hall 2 meaning that this concert was very close to being a Sell Out…….which is a good thing.
A nervous looking, but smiling Kim Richey opened proceedings with a charming preamble to Chinese Boxes from her 2007 album of the same name, and the song itself was absolutely delightful; as were everything else she sang too.
I particularly liked her stories behind the songs; especially the self-depreciating one for Hello Old Friend/John’s Song which really made me and the crowd chuckle; then gasp at the power of the song itself.
With only 45 minutes to play with Kim slid in only a couple of albums from this years’ Edgeland and thankfully my two favourites, the brilliant Chuck Prophet co-write Pin a Rose and the darkly beautiful and autobiographical Wild Horses were among them; and the latter especially received long and loud applause from the knowledgeable crowd as it ended.

KIM SAGE
Although not something I normally do I’d intended saying ‘hello’ to Kim during the break; but the queue to buy her album and have a photo taken appeared never ending; so I slunk away back into the shadows like a Reviewer Ninja.
When I walked back into the hall, there was a palpable air of anticipation as the lights went down, and Gretchen Peters made her way across the stage.
I was very surprised that she chose the exquisitely dark and brooding Arguing With Ghosts and Wichita from her new album which only came out a few days ago to start the show; but the look on the audience’s faces as the latter ended proved what an excellent selection they were.
For the third song Barry Walsh left the Steinway piano to strap on a piano accordion and stalk the stage like a Parisian troubadour for the chillingly beautiful Matador.
The mood was set, for an evening of ‘sad songs to make everyone happy.’
With a back catalogue of songs that put all of her contempories in the shade; Gretchen chose to pretty much perform the vast majority of songs from the latest album Dancing With The Beast and, do you know what? They were all here on merit, trust me.
With Barry on piano and two young guys from Northern Ireland on bass and electric guitar; the arrangements of these new songs made Truckstop Angels and Say Grace even more haunting than on disc.
There was something that I’d tried to say in the album review that was even more evident tonight; Gretchen tells some harrowing stories on these songs and really and truly inhabits the characters she’s singing about; but giving these ‘feminist subjects’ a very feminine state of mind.

gretchen SAGE
As I said there weren’t a lot of ‘older songs’ but those that were included were breathtaking; especially the Grammy winning Blackbirds and my personal favourite On a Bus Stop to St. Cloud, which was introduced with a story about Jimmy LaFave which sadly went over the audience’s heads.
Oh……another was Guadalupe, which I think I first heard sung by Tom Russell and was probably the first time I’d heard Gretchen Peter’s name; such is the nature of the world she and I inhabit.
Highlights? Flipping heck!
The title track from the latest album Dancing With The Beast is about a horrible subject; but tonight was delivered with majestic aplomb, leaving everyone dumbfounded until they nearly lifted the roof with their collective applause.
Kim Richey was invited back out to provide backing vocals and harmonies on a couple of songs; one of which; Gretchen got the key wrong and had to be stopped mid verse; much to everyone’s delight!

gretchen and kim
I’m normally not a fan of encores, as they are generally contrived these days, but tonight they were well deserved with Gretchen eventually leaving the stage to go ‘off mic’ to serenade the front row with an incredibly simple and intimate Love That Makes a Cup of Tea; (which was only spoilt by someone dropping a pin), and was the perfect way to end a perfect concert.

http://www.gretchenpeters.com/
http://kimrichey.com/

Photos by HarrisonaPhotos.

Full set https://www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk/Music/Gretchen-Peters-2018/

Ana Egge White Tiger

ana egge

Ana Egge
White Tiger
StorySound Records

A Charming Foray into Americana

White Tiger, the tenth album from nomad turned Brooklyn resident, Ana Egge, is a charming foray into pop, Americana, and folk. When she was younger, Egge built her own acoustic guitar and still uses it to this day. That shows dedication and resolve to her craft, like a magician building their own tools to cultivate their spells. Egge has been at this for long enough to know best how to hone her songs to simple perfection. And these songs are sneaky good, taking unexpected lyrical turns with simple, yet diverse instrumentation. Retro throwback horns, woodwinds, and bouncy synths abound, but so does bashing drums, sweet fiddle, and the clear chime of acoustic guitars, all living with one another comfortably, taking us on a fun journey. In “Last Ride” Egge says “You were waiting and jumped on behind / I couldn’t wait to make you hold on tight,” and that applies to this album, too. She’s ready for you to be invested in these songs, to take this journey with her, and she doesn’t plan on letting you down in the least.
The album’s opener is the wistful “Girls, Girls, Girls,” in which Egge proclaims to know “what makes the world go ’round,” and when she offers up this knowledge she coos softly as if she’s not quite ready to give up the secret: A whisper can sometimes be more powerful than an exclamation. In the first verse, when she states “New York City was the place to be / Waiting on my man / Waiting for Sweet Jane” you know that she’s aware of her musical history, and when the song continues: “Walking down Chelsea Street / Seeing who we could be,” we see she’s gleefully coy as well as smart. The title song, “White Tiger,” could be a mantra for surviving rough times, putting the past behind you and moving on. “Be With You” is that rare find—a love song without the schmaltz, just honest yearning.
I generally don’t like comparing musicians to other musicians but I do want to say that this batch of tunes along with the excellent production
reminds me of the mid-nineties band Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, with it’s simple but quirky arrangements and clear presentation. I’m thinking of the whistle solo on “Girls, Girls, Girls,” the delightfully understated horns and woodwinds on several songs, and the winning arrangement of the John Hartford song, “In Tall Buildings,” a duet with guitarist Billy Strings, featuring wonderful violin accompaniment by Alex Hargreaves. Egge’s and Strings’ vocals playfully intertwine while the violin weaves around them both, creating a rare and wonderful treat for the ears. If there’s one tune on this album ready to be put on loop to listen to over and over it’s definitely this one.
The album ends with the “Let the Light In,” a hymn for the aftermath of a breakup, when it’s finally okay to let go and feel good about the decisions you’ve made. We’ve made this journey from start to finish with Egge, but are we truly ready to move on? Myself, I played it over and over again for the better part of a week, revelling in each and every song. These tunes don’t grow on you as much as they are fully realized deep inside you already, waiting for the chance to spring forth. It’s nice to see artists still releasing albums full of great material, not just a single here and there, and I’m looking forward to Egge’s next one as well as delving into her back catalogue, which will— —if this album is any indication—be well worth it.

Courtesy Guest Reviewer ….the Legendary Roy Peak

Released 8th June 2018
http://www.anaegge.com/

Rita Coolidge SAFE IN THE ARMS OF TIME

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Rita Coolidge
SAFE IN THE ARMS OF TIME
Blue Elan Records.

Deeply Personal, Yet Smile Inducing Songs of Love, Life and Hope.

For the third time this year I’m so excited to receive an album I’m going to review it on it’s initial first couple of plays.
Perhaps it’s my advancing years but I found myself laughing at, then shouting at the accompanying Press Release when it said “In case you don’t know who Rita Coolidge is, she……….” come on chaps; if the receiving reviewer doesn’t already know who the Delta Lady is they don’t deserve a copy of her latest and 18th release, do they?
Mmmmmmm opening song Satisfied whizzed me back to those teenage days in my bedroom poring over the lyrics and photos on my brother’s copy of This Lady’s Not For Sale. Not for one moment is this a ‘throwback song’ quite the opposite actually; it just sounds very mellow as the singer pours herself into a lovely love song, seen through the wisdom of her advancing years.
That last sentence can probably be attached to The Things We Carry and the ultra passionate We Are Blood which may appeal to young lovers; but is firmly aimed at the more Silver Haired among us and will touch our hearts in a way Adele or Ed Sheeran never could.
One song in particular will catch the attention of many reviewers, and that’s Doing Fine Without You, which again pairs Rita with Graham Nash on a timeless and seamless slice of Classy Laurel Canyon Soft-Rock, who wrote the song with Russ Kunkel and immediately though of Rita; although he had no idea she was considering releasing another album.
Shame on me, but I can’t remember the last time I played a Rita Coolidge album until this morning; but listening to the way she delivers The Things We Carry over a gentle piano is spine tingling and can only come from a person who has actually lived a life that has regrets in it; but can’t be changed. A very smart song indeed.
While not a lot has changed from those early records; especially Rita’s distinctively sultry voice; the subject matter most certainly has as she now sings from a position of wisdom rather than the hope of youth; and there are stand out tracks aplenty here from that viewpoint with the duet with Keb’ Mo Walking on Water being especially wonderful and Please Grow Old With Me, which closes the album is a deeply personal yet smile inducing love song that will touch the hearts of a whole generation of Rock fans who have actually done that with not just Rita; and but our own Soul Mates too.
On only two plays it’s not been easy choosing a Favourite Track; as SAFE IN THE ARMS OF TIME is a good old fashioned AOR Singer-Songwriter Long Player that doesn’t need a 45 RPM single to promote it; but there are certainly a couple of songs that could easily fit into a late night radio show on Border Radio.
Naked All Night and We Are Blood are both timeless, tightly wrapped, well constructed stories in that vein; and the delightful Van Gogh takes Don McLean’s Vincent as a starting point and looks deeper into his life and the effect he had on those around him; but I’m going for You Can Fall In Love as my Favourite Track, as it not just covers all of the bases that I would expect from a singer of Rita Coolidge’s calibre but is a song of hope for not just oldies like me (and you?) but younger people who have failed relationships behind them and think that their future is bleak……when there is always ‘hope’ for all of us.
As happens when we get older, negative things that effect us in a million ways hit us hard every day and Rita Coolidge is no different, with the death of her sister Priscilla in 2015 possibly, with hindsight being the catalyst for this collection of songs as they deal with all of the dark emotions one deals with in such an aftermath and a house move back to her home State of Tallahassee bringing the light back into her life.
Now I’m looking forward to digging even deeper into these songs, just for fun which is a rarity at RMHQ these days.

Released May 4th 2018
https://www.facebook.com/DeltaLadyRitaCoolidge/

Ben Glover SHOREBOUND

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Ben Glover
SHOREBOUND
Proper Records

Deep, Dark and Delightful Celtic Americana.

We’ve been fans of this Northern Irish singer-songwriter since we first saw him opening for Mary Gauthier in 2012, when even then, lesser acts wouldn’t have let him come near the theatre for fear of being upstaged. The following year Bap Kennedy actually introduced me to him at the inaugural (and subsequently only) Belfast Skyline Festival, and Ben actually remembered that previous review in Maverick Magazine.
There’s an argument that Ben could make a handsome living sitting in a Nashville penthouse churning out co-writes with the great and good of both Music Row and the much cooler East Nashville crowd; such is his ever growing reputation as a wordsmith; but thankfully he still has ambitions of his own and SHOREBOUND is the latest in a trilogy of exciting and absorbing albums; starting with The Emigrant (2016) and the collaborative Orphan Brigade (2017) with Joshua Britt and Neilson Hubbard that both tested his metal as a songwriter and he won both times.
Now on his sixth album under his own name SHOREBOUND marks an apparent new direction for Mr Glover, as most of these songs are not just writing collaborations but most include musician friends in the recording, starting with the beautifully melodic What You Love Will Break Your Heart which has Amy Space providing luscious harmonies as Ben delivers a Country Heartbreaker Deluxe.
Several songs here genuinely stopped me in my tracks the first time I played this CD; starting with Tack #2 A Wound That Seeks The Arrow a breathtaking duet featuring a wondrous female voice that I recognised but couldn’t place; so had to look at the credits to discover it is Angel Snow; a new name to many of my readers but not those of listeners to my old radio show where her songs Gasoline and Coal & Water were Bona-fide favourites. The combination of voices evokes memories of many other famous pairings over the years; and even now a month later whets my appetite for a whole album in the same style by the same couple.
It’s no surprise that I feel exactly the same way about
Generally the ‘Guest Stars’ are happy to stand in the background, providing harmonies and intricate musicianship, which is especially the case with the Celtic-folksy Catbird Seat with Mary Gauthier, and it’s stinging pedal-steel in the background and the soft-rocker Ride The River alongside our latest RMHQ ‘discovery’ (?) Kim Richey.
When I only have limited space it’s a difficult choice to decide what to concentrate on……the amazing partnerships like the back-porch Twang of My Shipwrecked Friend alongside his friend and mine Anthony Toner and the Buffalo Springfield inspired (?) Song For the Fighting with producer Neilson Hubbard (which was a contender for Favourite Song status) or do I concentrate on the glorious songwriting and storytelling on the title track Shorebound or Kindness or the brittlely beautiful Northern Stars which includes fellow Northern Irish Alumni Malojian and Matt McGinn in the background; but who manage to create a melody that plenty of more famous American musicians have striven for for decades. This too was a contender for ‘Favourite Track status for several days!
While this album could possibly be filed under Easy Listening, it is but it’s also an album that demands that every song needs to be ‘listened to’ especially the Celtic-Country Rocker Wildfire which is exactly what the title suggests and has Popstar, Style Maker and DJ Extraordinaire Ricky Ross not just singing alongside Ben but providing the perfect foil to his distinctively warm vocal style.
There can’t be anything else to add, you must be thinking. Well there is; and it’s the Favourite Track accolade which has obviously been a very difficult decision to make as each single song here could win that award on its own merits; but I’m going for…..no….yes….no…..it’s a tie!
The first song of the two is a first for me, as the dark and moody Dancing With The Beast, a glorious almost Gothic duet with Gretchen Peters is also the title track on her own latest album which I will review later this very week! In the setting of this particular album the song provides the shade to the light most other songs provide; and played on it’s own it sounds like it should be the theme tune for a late at night Ghost Story on TV; and it just also just might be Ben Glover’s finest ever vocal performance.
The second of the pair couldn’t be any more different and goes to show the majestic way Ben Glover can not just write (or co-write in this case) a beautiful song to fit any mood that takes his fancy. The intensely fervent Keeper of My Heart which finds Ben writing and singing alongside another RMHQ Favourite, Rob Vincent esq. is the perfect way to close this amazing record; as it encompasses everything that is not just great about Roots Music in all its permutations but showcases a much undervalued talent that deserves a much wider audience than he probably already has; and would get if here were from the Americas.

#Ben Glover really is a rare talent and I can only think of one other singer-songwriter that he reminds me of; and that’s Bap Kennedy; who also managed to combine his Celtic Roots with a genuine and historic love of American Country music and do it with ease and grace. As does Ben Glover.

Released May 4th 2018
https://www.benglover.co.uk/home

Jeff Plankenhorn SLEEPING DOGS

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Jeff Plankenhorn
SLEEPING DOGS
Spike Steel Records

Americana With The Emphasis on Country of the Country Rock Variety.

This isn’t meant to be a ‘name drop’ but I first encountered Jeff Plankenhorn’s name a year or more back when I was privy to a conversation between ‘Scrappy’ Jud Newcomb who was playing guitar for/alongside Slaid Cleaves and Jumpin’ Hot Club impresario Graham Anderson; on my return home I checked out a few of my favourite Americana albums and sure enough there was Plankenhorn’s name in the credits
Check your own collection…….and see how many albums he’s playing guitar and slide on. It’s scary.
But, not content with just being a guitar for hire; and why should he? Jeff Plankenhorn is slowly carving out a name on the Americana circuit as a singer-songwriter too and that reputation will only become ever more enhanced with this release.
The title track Sleeping Dogs opens proceedings in a laid back Country-Rock manner, with Plankenhorn not just proving what an accomplished guitarist he is; but what an astute singer AND songwriter he is too……the quality guitar playing is a given here on in, btw.
For an Americana act in an Alt. Country world; the emphasis here is Country of the Country Rock variety on quite a few songs here, with Homecoming being a Truck Driving song worthy of Little Feat or the Doobies; and Piece of Cake is in a similar mode too, which is very much a good thang around these here parts y’all.
After all these years Plankenhorn is certainly no ‘one trick pony’ and carefully mixes on some semi-biographical songs and scopes them out on the acoustic guitar; This Guitar is a prime example as is the duet Tooth and Nail featuring his mentor and friend Mr Ray Wylie Hubbard, which smoulders like a forest fire and the attention to details in the story are quite exceptional, for someone not regarded as a songwriter.
There’s another collaboration on the melancholic Holy Lightning; Ms Patty Griffin who creates the perfect foil for Plankenhorn’s deliberately dour vocal performance of a song so brittle you feel the couple may not actually finish it.
I very nearly chose This Guitar as my Favourite Track; and the love song to his wife Heaven on Earth certainly has its merits but after repeated plays I’m going for I Don’t Know Anything which may or may not have been written with me in mind! Okay……I know it wasn’t but it’s one of those songs that make you think “You too? I thought it was only me who thought that!” Plus it’s another classy Country Rocker of the finest vintage.
Obviously Jeff Plankenhorn’s been around a lot of great artistes and albums over the years; and with ‘Scrappy Jud’ sitting at the control desk it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the mix of light and shade here is very nearly perfect; with songs of all shades that will capture the listener’s moods at different times, with the rockier ones being the most surprising to these ears.

PS As I write this I can’t help but think that the character of Deacon Claybourne in Nashville may even be based on Jeff Plankenhorn…….just a thought.

Released May 4th 2018
https://www.jeffplankenhorn.com/

Birds of Chicago LOVE IN WARTIME

birds of chicago

Birds of Chicago
LOVE IN WARTIME
Signature Sounds Recordings

Songs of Beauty and Grace From A Very Special Genre-Defying Duo.

Is it possible, arrogant even to presume an album is going to be ‘inch perfect’ even before you’ve heard a note? I know this is true of Dylan and One Direction fans; but Birds of Chicago? Well dear reader, JT and Alli are my Dylan and One Direction and when I saw that Luther Dickenson was co-producing my fingers were shaking when I slipped the disc into the office stereo.
A little history lesson for you as I play the album for the umpteenth time this month; I first saw Jeremy Lindsay aka JT Nero at one of the inaugural JHC at SummerTyne Festivals and while words failed me in a way to describe his ‘sound’ I knew I liked it. He returned to Newcastle with a band (JT and the Clouds) in tow the following year 2011, and again blew me away.
I think it was the next year when he was billed to appear solo in the JHC Tent at Evolution Festival but actually turned up alongside Po’ Girl and the way he exchanged glances with Allison Russell made me think ‘aye aye’ but the sound the ‘Supergroup’ created was amazing and, as they say……the rest is history……who knew the Birds of Chicago were invented in a field in Newcastle?
I’m still lost for words how to describe the ‘sound’ Birds of Chicago create; this album begins with a delightful 1 minute opus of Allison ‘Mmmmming’ over some piano and a gently strummed guitar on Now/Sunlight and I knew any pre-conceived fears could easily be dismissed.
The first real song Never Go Back follows and finds JT on lead vocals and Allison providing backing vocals and harmonies worthy of Atlantic Records at their Soulful finest. While the song is a traditional Folk/Country/Americana hybrid, when Alli sings in French it made me go weak at the knees!
There’s nothing here not to like or even be confused about even if songs like Roisin Starchild and Lodestar are undefinable in musical terms; just sit back and let their beauty seep in…….you will thank me soon enough.
There is also a delightful warmth to Dickinson and Lindsay’s production; bringing out the best in the title track Love In Wartime, which is a song of hope in these troubled times; and Try which just sounds like the perfect song to listen to as the sun sets and your loved one sits opposite unaware you are looking at them.
If Birds of Chicago have a ‘signature sound’ it probably comes to the fore on Baton Rouge which has a hypnotic Jazz meets Country-Blues feel about it; with Allison Russell taking the listener on a dreamy journey to Heaven and back, without you ever leaving the comfort of your armchair.
Both JT and Alli have completely different voices and singing styles but when they combine on Roll Away and Derecho which closes the album, the stars truly align.
After all that, my selection for Favourite Track is probably the most traditional of songs on the album. On Super Lover you can picture Allison singing with a smile on her lips and her eyes tightly closed as her banjo picking carries the song until JT and the band ease in with harmonies which you don’t even notice the first 4 or 5 times you hear the song; so beautiful and spellbinding is Allison’s voice.
As I said earlier, this album is genuinely genre-defying, with the couple’s Folk background certainly coming to the fore, but it sits very comfortably alongside my favourite Alt. Country and Lo-Fi acts; but when Allison sings there’s always an underlying Jazz thread and when she plays her clarinet it makes this record and this duo very special indeed.

Released May 4th 2018
http://www.birdsofchicago.com/