This end of year Top 10 Albums malarkey is proving ever more difficult…….. so far we have posted 279 reviews covering Americana, Country, Alt. Country, Cow Punk, Soul, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Blues Rock, singer-songwriters, Folk, Alt. Folk, Nu-Folk, Ska AND Reggae! Each individual album is here on it’s very own merits and we wrote about them because we liked ’em and passionately believed they needed to be heard around the world (speaking of which…….. we had visitors from 371 different countries during 2018!!! 371???? I didn’t know that there was that many!) At one stage the spreadsheet for my Top 10 featured over 50 titles; such has been the quality of releases in 2018; but after a lot of deliberation and heartache, here is my own personal Top 20 albums that were released this year and each ‘surprised or fascinated’ me when I first heard them……….. sorry if you aren’t included.
Kim Richey – Edgeland
Malcolm Holcombe – Come Hell or High Water
Big Boy Bloater – Pills
Stephen Fearing – The Secret of Climbing
Curse of Lono – As I Feel
Gem Andrews – North
Ruby Boots – Don’t Talk About It
Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy
Prosecco Socialist – Songs From Behind Bars
Kid Ramos – Old School
John Hiatt – Eclipse Sessions
Susie Vinnick – Shake The Love Around
Abe Partridge – Cotton Fields and Blood For Days
Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey to Lubbock
Steve Young A Little North of Nowhere Self-Release
Quality Mellow and Laid-Back Americana
I know I shouldn’t, but I do feel guilty when some albums fall by the wayside at RMHQ. Not always of course; but in these days of limited National Media, unsigned acts with no budget for paying for adverts that give them reviews (you know who I mean #wink), it falls to sites like ours to give them a little leg up the ladder of moderate success. Steve Young? Who he? Why should you care? Hailing from the legendary Rock and Roll pantheon that is the Isle of Wight, this is the singer-songwriter-guitarists second album and is already a confirmed Favourite of the ‘random button’ on my mobile phone! My copy is actually two discs, with the second being a series of random ‘live tracks’ that I will come to later; so let’s start with the main album. The gentle A Fools Dream sets the mood quite perfectly, a laid-back tale of unrequited or is it broken love; whichever Young intricately combines the laid back West Coast sound of my youth with the type of cool stuff Jack Johnson and John Mayer have been dropping into the mainstream over the last few years. One of my phones favourite tracks is the pleading Trembling Heart which follows, and for a relatively simple song there’s a whole lot going on behind Young’s honeyed voice; as there is throughout the whole album. For someone who crowd-funded this album; Young has managed a very expensive sounding production worthy of some of America’s more famous studios; most notably on Waiting For My Heart (to catch up with my head) and the delicious Hard Times in a Beautiful Place; which when heard at the proverbial ‘right place and right time’ is quite breathtaking. While the tour that originally accompanied this release in October was as a support in clubs that are the size of my back bedroom I love the way Steve Young ignores that and throws caution to the wind by writing songs and creating an album that sounds like it is meant for the Radio 2 A Playlist! Which is where you should really be able to hear The Greatest Love Song and/or Guilty By My Eyes; which are both 10 x better/cooler than anything Gary Barlow or Eric Clapton has written in the last 20 years! In the nicest possible way this is 21st Century Classy Easy Listening; which may be why Mrs Magpie likes it as much as I do; with Beautiful Tonight being her personal favourite and the delicately perceptive My Son; which touched my heart too. While it could be argued that in more famous hands, this album is full of singles I actually think of it as an old fashioned LP that deserves your full attention and needs to be heard from start to finish in one sitting. That said me and my I-Phone have two Favourite Tracks; the tale of the unheralded troubadour The Great North Road and the charming Celtic tinged love song It’s a Good Thing. The Bonus Disc is a great throwback too; initially introduced by Sir Bob Harris’ s son Miles and then has Steve introducing or at least talking about four of these live ‘rarities’ which I love, the other two songs are re-mix/re-models of songs from an earlier release. A couple of stories that link to the songs are really heart rending; and a will really resonate with other songwriters; most notably how he worked on cruise ships between Copenhagen and Oslo, and wrote dark loves songs i his spare time…… which you would of course in such conditions! Then there is Young’s staggering acoustic re-working of Shine on You Crazy Diamond; which was originally recorded for Harris Jr’s Under The Apple Tree Sessions. I don’t use the word ‘staggering’ lightly here; it was only on the third play that the penny dropped as to what the songs was…..or used t be.
A Rare Story-Telling Rootsy Americana Talent in the Grand Tradition.
As Santa starts pulling on his boots in readiness for grooming the reindeer, I’m still playing ‘catch up’ with reviews from November! Some have already fallen by the wayside, but I can’t let 2018 fade away without telling you about this charming album from son of Baton Rouge Doug Schmude (rhymes with moody apparantly). For once it was a combination of the CD’s artwork and the artiste’s quirky name that drew my attention to this disc two months ago, which has led to several ‘listening sessions’ each of which has helped unfurl ever more from Shmude’s clever and intelligent songwriting. As always I judge albums by their opening track and Setting Fires on the Moon ticks every box I have; a fascinating love story sung by a warmly distinctive voice over a rather lovely melody. What’s not to like? Even Mrs. Magpie found herself tapping her toes to Silas James; but there’s so much more to this snapshot of small-town Middle America than a catchy tune. Who among us won’t have their imagination piqued by the opening lines; “His Hair was whiter as the white album, eyes as Blue as a Skip James song, he knew music like the B-Side of his hand, a song for every problem known to man!” loosely reminding me of my Favourite Song of all time, Mark Germino’s Rex Bob Lowenstein, this is one for all of us. OK it’s a bit of a fantasy song to me; but I really hope Silas James really did exist. This is followed by the darkly brooding Worry Stone which feature some delicious fiddle playing by Georgina Hennessy, and is a very clever story in a Jackson Brown kind of way. As I said at the beginning, it’s one of the songs that slowly unravel the more you hear it. One song especially fascinates me; and it’s one of those songs that make people like me with no talent at all, sit back in awe as they listen. My Daddy’s Musket is something of a historical tale about the Civil Way on the surface; but touches on many things that effect people; especially in the USA today. Congratulations all round chaps and chapesses. Mostly this is a Singer-Songwriter album that straddles the Rootsy edges of Country and the prosaic edge of Modern Folk, but there’s a rocky side to Doug Schmude too; with Salt being a moody Lo-Fi assault on the senses; and one I love to bits! The album closes with the rather delicate title track Burn These Pages, a songwriter’s song in some ways, as it feels like you are intruding on a man’s personal thoughts at times. But that’s the art of the songwriter isn’t it? I’m troubled as to what to choose for my Favourite Song; Silas James certainly has it’s merits as does the haunting Chris Knight song Enough Rope; another intense Lo-Fi rocker that’s chock full of dirty electric guitar and a story-line that Springsteen would have been proud to have written circa The River; but I’m going for the stunning El Tren de la Muerte, a thoughtful ‘Border Song’ in the mould of Tom Russell and Dave Alvin that will surely turn up on albums by Schmude’s contemporary’s in years to come. There’s a whole lot to like here on Doug Schmude’s 4th release; especially the very mature songwriting and the clever production which can be claustrophobic when necessary but also allowing room for songs to breath and slowly filter into your subconscious.
http://www.dougschmude.net/ Released 16th November 2018
A Beautifully Sensitive Epitaph To a Modern Musical Genius.
If you’re reading this I doubt I need to tell you who or what Willard Grant Conspiracy are; or more pertinently ‘were’. But if you are just being inquisitive,they were an ensemble nay, multitude of musicians who gathered around the ever evolving singer-songwriter Robert Fisher, who sadly died on February 12th 2017, and the core of these songs and interludes were written and demoed in the previous 12 months. Now that the rawness of his passing has gone, lone time friend David Michael Curry has re-evaluated the work and gone about creating this final testament to Robert Neil Fisher and Willard Grant Conspiracy. As a side-bar, Fisher lost me off many years ago, leaving me in his slipstream as he blazed a trail somewhere between genius and madness, (in my humble opinion). So; what to make of this final release? As opening track Hideous Beast growled it’s way from the speakers my eyebrows raised so high they nearly touched the back of my neck. Now, with the benefit of hindsight I can’t think of a better way to attract the listener’s attention, but long concealed memories of trying to listen to the crazy and experimental work from Zappa and Beefheart in my teenage bedroom sprung to mind; but hey….it only lasts just shy of two minutes; so no real trauma was done. Mercifully the second song, Do No Harm is more like the Lo-Fi, shoe-gazing introspection that I adored so many years ago, as are several others here that fit that marvelous description too…….especially the dark and almost Gothic I Could Not and the single that trailed the album release, Untethered with its slight Country underscore and Johnny Cash Americana sensitivity. ‘Sensitivity’ is actually a good word to describe the overall ‘feeling’ on this album; Robert always was a canny song-writer; and I know it’s presumptive of me, but as these songs were written after his diagnosis, I think it’s fair to imagine him mining both his heart and Soul when writing and even ‘constructing’ the brittle and beautiful Let The Storm Be Your Pilot, and the breathtaking Share The Load, which will surely reduce many who hear it to tears. Each track here has it’s very own worth; which means choosing a Favourite Track from the wonderfully eclectic mix is difficult to the extreme; but the bleak and brooding Love You Apart certainly bares repeated listening when taken out of context; as does Chasing Rabbits and Margaret on the Porch too; but I’m probably going for the relatively simple Saturday With Jane as the RMHQ Favourite Track, possibly because Robert sounds uncannily like Lou Reed on one of the few songs that would fit into a Radio playlist.
Being the Americana Renaissance Man he was; it’s no real surprise to find two instrumentals here; the quirkilly titled Two Step borders on being Chamber music; when the title suggests something else completely, such is Fisher’s eccentric sense of humour. The other instrumental is Trail’s End, which brings everything to another Zappaesque conclusion, as it meanders and turns left,right and left again before ending as a wild crescendo …….which just may be the perfect epitaph for Robert Neil Fisher Esq. There’s a lot going on here; and an awful lot to like, especially when it’s put into the context of being the last writings and recordings of a man who history will show to be something of a Musical Genius.
We like Ryan Bingham a lot here at RMHQ, and we are looking forward to his UK visit in early 2019 a lot even if he ain’t coming to Newcastle 😦 so it’s been a blast this morning listening to the first song Wolves (especially in this acoustic format) from next year’s AMERICAN LOVE SONG album……… enjoy!
Rodney Crowell Christmas Everywhere New West Records
Not Many Ho Ho Ho’s, But Pure Quality From the Elder Statesman of Americana.
Baring in mind American music of every hue’s fascination with Christmas Albums it was intriguing to find that Rodney Crowell had never actually made one before. But, and this is hardly a ‘spoiler’ the wait has been worth it, as Americana’s favourite curmudgeon probably speaks for most of us on the assembled songs here. As his his way, we are lulled into a false sense of bonhomie with the charming and very tongue in cheek, opening song Clement’s Lament (We’ll see you in the Mall) sung by a Heavenly choir of young ladies; then Rodney enters the fray with the frantic title track, Christmas Everywhere, that lists all the commercial things his family and friends want; but with the added twist of Lera Lynn taking the part of an innocent child wishing for a ‘time machine’ to go back and take the gun away from the man who killed John Lennon. Just as you get your head around the message, Crowell comes back with another extended wish list. Clever and thought provoking message about the cynical world we live in? Most certainly…… but innocence will always win. While no Christmas Day at RMHQ would be complete without Phil Spector’s album as an accompaniment; but on the run up I do like a sad and blue Christmas song; and there are more than a few here that will make my playlist for this year and more. Christmas Makes Me Sad follows a long line of beautiful break-up songs dating back to the dawn of civilisation, I’m sure and Crowell somehow manages to keep this, and the duet with RMHQ Favourite Miss Brennen Leigh Merry Christmas From an Empty Bed just the right side of being maudlin and mawkish; as if you ever doubted his writing skills. While most songs here tread the traditional path, especially the rocking and rolling Very Merry Christmas and When The Fat Guy Tries The Chimney on For Size, there’s one in particular that caught my attention as it has an ‘old fashioned’ melody; and listening to it the second time as I read its story my eyes misted up. Crowell heard his young Granddaughters playing the family piano and asked what the tune was;and they replied it was something they’d made up…… being the canny businessman he is, he recorded it on his phone and then spent several months developing it and some worthy lyrics until it became this beautiful Christmas song. Now I’ve let the cat out of the bag; I hope he shares the royalties fairly! It’s also no real surprise that several songs deal with the state of the world we find ourselves in as 2018 comes to a conclusion; and of these songs the piercingly observed Christmas in New York, and Bluesy Shuffle, Let’s Skip Christmas This Year plus the razor-sharp Christmas In Vidor are Rodney Crowell par Excellence.
Because this album is what it is; finding a Favourite Song hasn’t been easy; as there certainly ain’t anything you will hear on Smooth Radio or in the Supermarket, but one particular song tugged at my heartstrings more than any other; and while not exactly ‘Ho Ho Ho’, All For The Little Girls and Boys finds Crowell’s daughters accompanying our hero in the early 80’s on what can only be a ‘song of hope and good cheer’ to close the record; and therefore becomes the RMHQ Favourite Track. Now he’s very much the Elder Statesmen of Americana, in many ways this is exactly the Christmas Album I’d have expected from Rodney Crowell in every note,melody and couplet and I guess I will be playing it a lot over the next few days; but put it back in it’s sleeve at tea time on the 24th of December.
Austin Lucas IMMORTAL AMERICANS Cornelius Chapel Records
Suspenseful and Evocative Country-Folk From The Dark Heart of Americana.
Some albums aren’t as ‘instant’ as others; they have to be cherished, and allowed to grow on you at their own pace…… which is something I don’t have a lot of….’time’ that is; but there was definitely ‘something’ about this album that has made me keep coming back to it; and on Sunday afternoon ‘click’…I finally got it. Straddling the Country/Folk divide Austin Lucas has a warm, distinctive and almost Latino’ voice looks back on the tormented small town life of his own youth on the stark title track Immortal Americans which is the first track here; and sadly it will still resonate with outsider-teens today; which is sad indictment of the society we all find ourselves living in. I’m not aware of Lucas’s previous six albums; but it’s probably fair to say this is the one he has chosen to pour his heart out, in a style that combines the rawness of Jason Isbell, Tom Paxton and latter day Steve Earle at times. Nothing here is particularly ‘easy on the ear’ and nor are the songs meant to be; for instance My Mother and The Devil and especially Marie and The Shadow are soul-searching at the extreme; with the latter being about the time he found a growth oh his girlfriend’s back that turned out to be cancerous; and is so starkly fragile you will hold your breath while you listen, for fear of missing a word or note. Mercifully not everything is quite so dark; there is much ‘light’ too; albeit in a Folky way that may not be quite so literal; although Goat & Goose may be a true story; but I somehow doubt it. brings me back to Happy;which may not be quite what you expect from the title; but is certainly a Master Craftsman songwriter at the top of his game. Even when I was struggling to get my head around this album, there were two particular songs that kept drawing me back time and time again; hence both the cerebral Killing Time, with it’s jaunty beat coupled to a steel-guitar that sounds like it’s being played with a Bowie knife and the darkly brooding Monroe County Lines tie for the title of RMHQ Favourite Song; as both are quite incredible songs that will sadly miss most people by; but those who ‘get them’ will clutch this album to their bosom and never let go such is the power in Austin Lucas’s writing. I guess that is the real beauty of this album; the actual songs themselves; which may sound an odd thing to say, but each song unravels bit by bit everytime you hear them, slowly letting you into a dark world of shadows that you may not have been aware of; but eventually finding yourself entwining your soul around each deeply sensitive and occasionally sensual line and stanza from the pen of Austin Lucas.
John Paul White
MY DREAMS HAVE ALL COME TRUE
GOSH! I couldn’t believe my little ears when I first heard this earlier today……with a UK Tour in January being announced today; and tickets going on sale this Friday morning, 16th November @ 9am, he is releasing this beautiful song from a prospective new album soon after.
While not quite a Supergroup; the four constituent parts of London based band Jawbone most certainly have very enviable CV’s after playing alongside Rock Royalty like Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and Tom Jones to name but four over the years.
With that in mind it was the name Marcus Bonafanti that jumped out for me, even though I don’t actually any of his solo albums…..I know he’s a quality guitarist with a capital Q!
So; I was taken aback by the almost laid back Country Rock and Americana feel to opening song Leave No Traces, which just goes to show you should never pre-judge these things.
Still reeling I was, and still am impressed by the harmonies Bonafanti and keyboardist Paddy Milner create in between taking alternate lines on haunting and clever song about ‘being lost’ in both life and love……which is something many of us can associate with.
This is one of those albums that work in many settings; but for me having it on the car stereo was when it really and truly came to life.
While Jawbone are probably ‘Rockers’ at heart; songs like the cleverly constructed and deeply personal Family Man, Rolling on the Underground and Sit Around The Table show a mellower and occasionally more playful side than full on Blues Rock would ever allow.
I’m sure when they play live many of these songs will take on a whole new life; as indicated by the neatly restrained powerhouse Big Old Smoke and possibly even the rolling and smouldering Get What You Deserve….. but I could be wrong of course.
To some greater or lesser degree the complex arrangements and the way they revolve around Milner on the piano with Bonafanti playing in the shadows, means that Bet On Yesterday and the song that closes events The Years Used To Mean So Much owe a helluva lot to the master-works of Elton John; and that is meant to be a huge compliment.
There are plenty of songs here that are perfect for the radio; but one in particular has all the hallmarks of being a crossover hit, making the wonderful Rock Ballad When Your Gun Is Loaded easily my favourite song here; especially the chorus,
‘When your gun is loaded
Don’t point it at your feet
I never make the same mistakes
I make new ones every day’
Come on; who among us doesn’t think that applies to them? I certainly think it could be about me, and me alone.
There’s a lot going on here, with the intensity of someone U2 in their early days sitting alongside the harmonies of CSN&Y, while, honestly some of the sweeping flourishes could be Queen without the pomposity and bizarrely there are also tiny echoes of Little Feet and the Band too at times.
This have been an amazing journey of discovery and in Marcus Bonafanti and Paddy Milner Jawbone have two very diverse yet complimentary singers; and each of the four bring an individual set of musical skills that add together to create an extraordinary debut album, that has the potential to lay the groundwork for a very special next few years.
VIVA! Los Pacaminos LIVE!
The Most Authentic Tex-Mex Band This Side of the Atlantic!
Do I start with a History Lesson about how London Pub Rock in the early 1970’s begat not only Punk Rock, but what we now know as Alt. Country all around the world; or do I just pile straight into this fire cracker of an album?
Let’s go for the latter shall we? I don’t want to bore or antagonise you
Los Pacaminos are often lazily billed as Superstar, Paul Young’s band but they are so much more than that; as if you check out the CV of each musician you will see they are something of a mini-Supergroup in their own rite and us this format to have a blast whenever they can get the band together.
VIVA! LIVE! Is their fourth album and follows on from the immaculately titled A Fist Full of Statins from earlier last year; and really does showcase the best Bar Band in NW London at their very best in a club in Harrogate, North Yorkshire which is frequently compared to the border town of Tijuana, Mexico.
The party; and that’s the best way to describe a Los Pacaminos concert starts with a shady rendition of Highway Patrol and the whoops from the audience are 100% genuine and similar to the sounds inside my head as the guitars squeal and hiss as whoever is singing rumbles like a storm brewing in the dessert.
That’s the beauty of Los Pacaminos, even though Paul Young was/is a bonafide Pop Star, he’s more than happy to share the spotlight with his band mates.
As you would expect, the song selection is quite exceptional with Little Sister, A Little Bit is Better Than Nada and He’ll Have To Go all getting dusted off and gussied up for a night on the town; and even old nuggets like Smoke That Cigarette, Wooly Bully, the dazzling Come a Little Bit Closer and a favourite of Mama Magpie Edie, Wooly Bully somehow sound as fresh as the day they were recorded over half a century ago by their originators.
There’s even a Guest Spot from Honouree Pacamino, Senor Chris Difford who takes the lead on (the remixed) Tex Me I’m Yours which fits in like guacamole on a taco; and why no one thought of adding a slide and pedal-steel guitar to the original I will never know!
There are also a couple of originals in here too alongside the Classics; but things move along so quickly and there aren’t really any song intros; and the record cover misses these things out completely but I didn’t recognise Poor Boys or Girl From Tennessee but both are rip-roaring stonkers and quickly had me tapping my toes, swaying my hips and even miming along with their choruses; even though I’d never heard them before.
And it’s the same with both songs that became RMHQ Favourites after only two sittings; both Battered And Boozed and Our Favourite Things; could easily have been something the Blasters or Fabulous Thunderbirds would have played to a smoky and packed cantina somewhere sleazy and hot, ‘back in the day’……. Perhaps they did; and if they did I bet it was a great night there too!
In many ways there’s ‘nothing new’ here; but that misses the point completely this is an album and indeed audience paying homage to a cool genre of music (Tex Mex/Tejano) that has been airbrushed from the Americana History books in recent years; but still makes for a cracking good night of happy songs, dance tunes, love songs, break up songs and especially drinking songs when done as well as this.