Raw, Passionate Hillbilly Punk Infused Blues.
In a month when I’ve had releases by Sir Rod Stewart, Elvis Costello and the legendary John Hiatt to review, an album by a little known band from the backwoods of Americay, who nobody I know has ever heard of has not just captured my imagination but my heart as well!
Swampcandy are a definitive Roots-Rock band first formed in 2007 but really came to life in 2010 when singer/bassist Joey Mitchell joined original singer Ruben Dodd and, as they say…..the rest is history!
Best described as a Blues/Hillbilly/Folk/Country hybrid opening track JC’s Revenge is a really powerful foot stomper that made me do a double take the first time I played it. Best played LOUD Ruben Dodd sounds like he’s either got the Devil on his tail or Old Nick has actually inhabited his larynx as he growls and wheezes his way through four amazing minutes.
Oohhee! Joey Mitchell then kick starts the album on the second track with the jaunty and whoopielicious Party With The Devil and the darkly delicious frame of mind is set for what is to follow.
Those of a sensitive disposition can leave now.
When I first started reviewing Swampcandy’s ‘style’ would have been described as ‘Old Timey’; which it is……but boy oh boy….. is it contemporary and at times, frighteningly futuristic too!
Red Shoes finds the two singers bouncing off each other like electrons, then Burn The Meadow takes Olde School American Folk music into uncharted territory but on Dead Man Walking and Sack o’ Bones the band somehow manage to out Punk the MC5!
There’s a little bit of everything here, showing Swampcandy’s diverse and fascinating skill sets in all their ragged glories; none more so than on the fleshy Ragtime-Folk of San Francisco (the hills of) or the majestic Years on End, which features luscious and almost Angelic harmonies and a demonic Grand Piano; or my Favourite Track, the simple and delicate Knock Out which is a brittle and beautiful observation of the times the ‘working man or woman’ finds themselves in.
Swampcandy are ‘different’ in many ways from what you will normally hear; treading a very lonely and personal musical path that won’t ever be commercial in financial terms; but will bring joy and pleasure to everyone who invest the time in actually listening to their music.
I’ve just had another thought……. Swampcandy are the type of band that will play to a crowd of 50 in a tent at Glastonbury when U2 or Coldplay or whoever are headlining in front of 250,000 across the field; but two years later those 50 people will still be talking about the night that they had their lives changed.
1st October 2018
Keb Mo & Roseanne Cash
PUT A WOMAN IN CHARGE
WOW! What a great combination…..Keb Mo AND Roseanne Cash on a wonderful new stomping single called PUT A WOMAN IN CHARGE.
With all that’s going on politically in the US of A it’s a wonderfully romantic notion to boot men to one side and PUT A WOMAN IN CHARGE, but before anyone gets carried away remember the UK has Theresa May ‘in charge’ and we are going to Hell in a handcart and the memory of the divisive Madam Thatcher still sends a shiver down the spine of most people North of Watford Gap; but hey……it’s still a really cool song.
” Mo’ hopes the track can be a gift to women everywhere “My mother just recently passed at the age of 91. She was smart. She was strong. She was a leader. This video is dedicated to her and amazing women everywhere that are getting the job done.”
Written by Keb’ Mo’, John Lewis Parker (“Hard Habit To Break,” “Can’t We Fall In Love Again”), and Beth Nielsen Chapman (“This Kiss,” “Happy Girl”), “Put A Woman In Charge” is now available through all digital retailers, including Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify, and more.
Music force Rosanne Cash, who delivered a powerful speech while accepting the Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award during this year’s Americana Music Awards teamed up with Keb’ and sings on the track. On Nov. 2, Cash will release her first new album in nearly five years, titled “She Remembers Everything.” The poetic, personal and incisive collection features ten songs, all written or co-written by Cash, that reckon with a flawed and fragile world from a uniquely feminine perspective.
DOPAMINE MACHINE & ACOUSTIC DOPAMINE
Blues Is Art
Two Contrasting Albums of the Same Great Songs.
This is not just an interesting, but a fascinating concept……. an album chock full of Blues Rockers, then the same songs by the same artist done acoustically.
Can it work? Will it work?
Without spoiling your fun; the answer is a resounding YES.
As is often the case I’d not heard of Hadden Sayers before receiving these two discs; but not only is DOPAMINE MACHINE his 9th album he plays guitar for Ruthie Foster whom we have a warm and soft spot for here at RMHQ.
The ‘electric’ album kicks off with a roar of ZZ Top proportions on Unsatisfied; and it’s no surprise that Maestro Billy Gibbons reckons Hadden is “pretty much my hero” as Sayers threatens the listeners sensibilities with his gruff singing voice and buzz-saw guitar licks; on a pretty cool song; it has to be said.
Now I’ve played the album 5 or 6 times; the sound of ZZ Top is certainly the ‘elephant in the room’ on a few songs but hey; that’s certainly no bad thing when they are of the quality of Hit The Road, Peppermint Patty and the raw muscle power of Backbreaker on which Sayers makes Ozzy Osbourne sound quite wimpy in comparison!
Not everything here actually trods that path though, no no no……Blood Red DeVille slows things down to a country stroll on a Sunday evening, and Sayers shows the versatility he’s acquired after so many years on the road by slinging in a cool slice of sexy Funk Rock with Good, Good Girl which, showcases his sizzling guitar skills better than just about anything else here.
On an album that is predominantly ‘Rock’ based I’m actually choosing two slower songs as my joint favourite tracks (it’s an age thing!); Gravity is one of those beautiful Acoustic-Rock ballads that builds and builds to a crescendo that used to litter the airwaves in the Eighties; and Hadden does the genre proud, with a very well written and constructed song.
The other was a much easier and probably more obvious choice for me, as Waiting Wanting is not just a gorgeous song in it’s own rite but actually features Ruthie Foster too which is never a bad thing.
DOPAMINE MACHINE is a really good collection of songs, which together showcase a talent that I’d not been aware of but will try my best to discover his back catalogue.
I wish I knew who once said “you know the strength of a great Rock song when it can be played just as well on an acoustic guitar” (or something like that) but Hadden Sayers certainly puts this adage to the test when he re-recorded all of the songs on DOPAMINE MACHINE In a way that sounds like they are from his bedroom with only his trusty Gibson ’54 acoustic and the (very) occasional assistance of Jim Ed Cobbs on percussion and the return of Ruthie Foster on Waiting Wanting.
For me, Sayers tale of addiction Dopamine Machine which opens the second disc is even more powerful in this raw state, as his voice virtually spits out the lyrics and you can hear every intimate breath in between lines too.
One fascinating aspect of the Acoustic album is the way the songs are re-ordered which appears to tell the same ‘story’ but in a much more coherent manner.
Learning to Disappear in this format becomes a breathtaking tale our modern times and the waste we create, told through a cracked voice and a man who has a compelling way with an acoustic guitar.
It’s a personal thing but I love the way Sayers counts himself in on Peppermint Patty and yet again a song I adored in its Rocky version, takes on a whole new life as the story unfolds in a much more personal manner; which is also true of Good Good Girl which now sounds like something Bruce might have written for The River but never got around to recording.
Obviously the whole point of these two collections is to ‘compare and contrast’ but it’s sometimes not fair; as both versions of Gravity and Backbreaker sound so completely different from each other I defy you to tell me they are the same songs; yet both are fabulous with Sayers really getting his Country-Blues on with both Acoustic versions.
Waitin Wanting (featuring Miss Ruthie Foster) is absolutely spellbinding and much more sensitive and sensual in this really basic formula, and when Ruthie supplies her background vocals I swear I went weak at the knees the first time I heard it.
Funnily enough I can’t slide a cigarette paper between two songs when choosing my obligatory ‘Favourite Track’ but two completely different songs from the ones on the ‘electric album’ which I think is quite odd.
Blood Red Deville isn’t a million miles away from the original; but without any other distractions Sayers sounds like he is drifting away into a whole other universe as he delivers his very private lyrics; and the other song, I Feel Love seems to delve into the Jose Feliciano arena, as Sayers delves deep into his soul to bring out the passion in absolutely every word and note he squeezes out of that classy wooden box.
DOPAMINE MACHINE is every inch a good Blues-Rock album full of ire, brimstone and majestic guitar playing and I’m sure it will appeal to his core fan base and even bring in new fans too but; and it’s just a personal thing but I very much prefer the ACOUSTIC DOPAMINE album; as it’s the style of music from the Americana/Blues spectrum that I listen to most these days; and Sayers is suddenly right up there with some of my favourite performers, with this album going on the shelf next to Jason Isbell, Chuck Prophet and Tom Russell.
Released September 14th 2018
JUST WHAT I KNOW
Lou B Music
Authentic Acoustic Blues From The Burgundy Delta, Out Of Birmingham UK.
Several weeks ago a Twitter ‘friend’ sent a message asking if we would we mind a friend of his getting in touch as they were about to release a new album; and he thought it could be of interest to us here at RMHQ.
Out of courtesy I said ‘yes’ and a couple of e-mails later, a copy was sent from the Blues Quarter of downtown Burgundy in that France!
Paul Cowley? Born and bred in the original Birmingham and a founder member of the prestigious Sutton Coalfield Blues Collective; but now residing in said Blues Quarter of Burgundy and very little of that bio prepared me for the world weary rendition of Memphis Minnie’s New Bumble Bee #2 which opens this disc. I was actually driving the car as a most glorious sunrise lit up the sky when I first heard this song last week; and I swear I went weak at the knees as Cowley pours the words out over some sublime slide guitar.
Seamlessly blending Country and Delta Blues together; the way Paul Cowley delivers Red Fence and Memphis Jug Blues belies which Birmingham he hails from as he sounds like he’s sitting on an Alabama stoop, singing and playing without a care in the world.
It’s pretty much a 50/50 split between Cowley’s own penned songs and an eclectic mix of covers that, apart from the Memphis Minnie song; I’d not heard before, even the Willie McTell song I Got To Cross That River of Jordan, which features some glorious guitar picking and sizzling slide work that defies his relative obscurity.
Speaking of his guitar playing; I’d place it in the Stefan Grossman school of Blues; but I have no idea what he’s doing with that wooden box on Roll & Tumble, which closes the album; as it’s quite scary at times; even sounding like it’s in danger of going out of tune, but never does.
Even though I was driving through an urban landscape on my way to work that first morning; Cowley’s songs Dollar & a Lie and Summer Breeze made me pretend I was in the Delta or Everglades as the sun rose over the ‘metaphorical’ hills and forests.
Honestly, there’s one song better than another here, making selecting a Favourite Song as difficult as ever; but I’m going to grasp the musical nettle and go for the intense love song Penny For Mine, Penny For Yours, which is the song that Eric Clapton has been trying to write and record for the last 40 years!
I have quite a collection of acoustic Blues albums; with a lot being ‘not so easy on the ear,’ but that’s not the case here; as not just is this authentic Blues to the core, there is something really special about Cowley’s guitar playing and ability to turn dour subjects into something quite beautiful, while still being a contemporary collection of songs.
Released July 2018
ANYTIME YOU NEED ME
Taking The Blues Down a Silky Road.
Five or six years ago I was inundated with debut albums from a glut of British Blues singer-guitarists and it’s fair to say each was quite exceptional in their own rite; with flair and note strangulation very much the order of the day.
Now; by 2018 the majority have mellowed down considerably; pretty much letting their singing and songwriting take the lead with the guitar playing being a wonderful background sound.
Which brings me to Ben Poole who has spent the last couple of years touring his ‘game changing’ album TIME HAS COME and the result is a new found maturity but still with a youthful swagger; and one eye firmly set on the American market.
The silky smooth title track ANYTIME YOU NEED ME opens proceedings and slinks out of the speakers like a Big Cat stalking its prey; and as the perfectly balanced four minutes draw to a close you are already in Ben’s tight grip and he ain’t gonna let go as the bass is turned up high on the next song; the low down Take It No More; a sad break-up tale set to a really groovy riff or two.
Poole shows his new found song writing maturity in a couple of really edgy and finely crafted songs; Found Out The Hard Way which keeps threatening to break it’s Funk out; but because of the luscious harmonies, always stays within the very Soulful confines you’d expect from bands like Steely Dan or the Doobie Brothers. The other in this ilk is the ultra-cool, yet sleazy Dirty Laundry which shows more than a nod in the direction of The Eagles or more to the point, Don Henley’s solo work; so don’t be surprised if this song turns up on some Blockbuster movie soundtrack; and it will be there on merit.
While Mrs Magpie loves these smooth tunes; I much prefer the raunch of Start The Car and the love song Let Me Be; where Poole’s guitar gently weeps and wails over some very astute lyrics.
The album closer Holding On will certainly be a crowd pleaser Poole finally lets loose on the guitar as he plumbs the depth of his soul on this ode to hope.
I’m not altogether sure what it reminds me of; (Bryan Adams singing an Allman’s song?) but this Power Ballad You Could Say is very much my Favourite Song on this fabulous album as the funky guitar licks and Poole’s warm and distinctive voice combine to great effect on a song surely destined for radios across the world.
Don’t worry; Ben’s guitar first-class and often inventive guitar playing is here there and everywhere, weaving everything together like a golden thread, as the songs on this album follow firmly in the footsteps of greats like Boz Scaggs, Freddie King and Buddy Guy.
Released September 14th September 2018
149 DELTA AVE.
Endless Blues Records
Free Range Blues For The Discerning Music Fan.
I’m not sure my ample frame would do justice to a T-Shirt baring the name of ‘Mississippi’ Mike Kolassa and the Taylor Made Blues Band; but after listening to this their latest release I’d be more than happy to give it a go!
Proceedings start with the classic stomp of I Can’t Slow Down which is an autobiographical look at the handsome silver foxes’ Rock n Roll lifestyle; and features some razor sharp guitar licks from David Dunavent and some of the honkiest and tonkiest piano playing from Chris Stephenson than I’ve heard in months. Not a bad start at all.
Like all Blues singers and bands; Kolassa isn’t afraid to include a cover or two in his itinerary and his choices here are quite exemplary with I Don’t Need No Doctor going right back to it’s N’Orleans roots and sounding nothing like the version that I have from Humble Pie!
Although I didn’t recognise it; the swinging and sassy Miss Boss was written by his friend Larry Garner and is a mainstay of Kolassa’s live sets; and it’s easy to hear why; it’s a doozy.
But first and foremost this album not just highlights Mick’s own writing skills but his authentic singing voice; this guy squeezes the pips out of the emotion on 35 Miles to Empty and Pullin’ Me Down; while also being able to dig right back into the heart of the Blues with the anthemic Cotton Road and then rocking the rafters of the Juke Joint on the road song US12 to Highway 49 with consummate ease.
The third of the three covers closes the disc and yet again I’d not heard it before; but Jazzy The Viper is very much a challenger for Favourite Track and would easily have won the title if it hadn’t been for the inclusion of two versions of the sassy Alternative Man; which are as good as each other and designed to make the ladies think “I wish he was my Alternative Man” and the men think; “I wish I could be her Alternative Man!” The Blues comes in many shades, but I love this raggedy and dirty version best of all *wink*.
What’s left to say? I just wish that there was a better and bigger shop window for super albums like this than RMHQ; but until there is……tell your friends, ‘Lock up your wives and daughters, Mick Kolassa is coming to town!’
# My ‘secret source’ in America keeps coming up trumps with the Blues albums he sends me……every single one hits the RMHQ ‘spot;’ and often keeps imminent releases from more famous acts offa the turntable. More often than not these acts wouldn’t get recognised in the street from outside a 50 mile radius of their home towns but their music is universal and deserves to be heard across the Blues World.
Released September 1st 2018
Ghetto Surf Music
An Exciting and Pretty Damn Unique Soulful Blues Hybrid.
My love of The Blues has been unstinting ever since I first ‘borrowed’ my elder brothers Rory Gallagher and Johnny Winter albums back in the early 1970’s; and my love remains pretty much undiminished now in 2018 as I somehow still manage to discover new artistes with their own unique way of making this historic genre fresh and indeed exciting!
Ladies and gentlemen; I present for your delectation…….Mr. Billy Hector from New Jersey.
Was it was the sparkling slide guitar on opening track Wizard of Babylon that hooked me in, or the way Hector’s distinctive voice and almost sexy guitar playing oozes seamlessly between BB King, Robert Cray and Gary Moore territory with grace and skill; but instantly hook me in he did; and when the title track Someday Baby came wailing from the speakers immediately afterwards I knew I was listening to something very, very special indeed.
Somehow Billy manages to combine Blues Rock with Super-Soul, Funk and even a touch of Jazz Rock in his superb playing on Jolene and the astonishing Road to Happiness as well as many others here too.
But, these days great guitarists are ‘two a penny’ so…….. what makes this album by Billy Hector stand out in a very crowded market is, first and foremost the quality of his songwriting.
In my eyes he can also write a love song that transcends genres like very few others can manage, with Moonlight in Her Eyes sounding like it would have blown our minds if Jimi Hendrix had recorded it; and Creeper delves into territory that very few apart from Sly Stone or perhaps Prince would dare enter; but Hector does with great composure and class!
It’s all too easy to hear why Hector has been winning Awards for decades now and was even both Hubert Sumlin’s and Joe Louis Walker’s ‘touring guitarist,’ when he gets into a groove on Hit The Road and the sweet and sassy instrumental Bareback; which I don’t think is about horse riding! But I return to Hector’s singing and his actual songs; which are all never less than excellent.
Two songs in particular stand out like bright red poppies in a field of beautiful golden wheat; and that’s the timeless Jolene (no….not that one) which has a little bit of everything in it; but sounds like no other Blues n Soul hybrid I can think of and the song that actually takes the accolade of Favourite Track by a whisker……. Butt Naked and Funk; which is exactly as cool and sexy as you’d hope for from a title like that.
There’s a lot going on here with Billy Hector merely fronting an amazing Big Band that I’ve hardly even alluded to but boy, oh boy are they red hot; evoking memories of the night I saw BB King at Newcastle City Hall when the great man allowed just about everyone to have a moment in the spotlight; but never enough to over shadow his own unique talents…..which is exactly what Billy Hector does on SOMEDAY BABY.
Released August 25th 2018
BREAK A MAN
WOW! This is different……but different GOOD!
Who would have thought that a young half Peruvian/Egyptian woman could sing Soul and Blues like this?
Well; that’s the power of music….it transcends borders and languages……see for yourself.
There’s an album coming soon too……so ‘watch this space kids!’
Little Red Rooster Band
LOCK UP THE LIQUOR
Boy, Oh Boy Can These Cats Knock Out a Glorious Blues Tune or Two!
I’m always going to give a play to any album I receive from Frank Roszak in America as he has certainly tuned into my personal tastes and 9 times out of 10 I love the music from a variety of Blues Bands he represents.
The Little Red Rooster Blues Band is no different as right from the Boogielicious opening instrumental Pitchin’ Woo you know you are in the presence of musicians who absolutely love their craft and will play to this high standard regardless of whether there are only a dozen people in a bar or 12,000 at a festival.
LOCK UP THE LIQUOR is a bit of a showcase to celebrate 30 years On The Road; and it’s fair to say their combined playing is quite masterful; and their songs top notch; with the band seamlessly slipping between Honky-Tonk Blues tunes like the title track Lock Up Your Liquor and the cheeky Thrift Shop Rubbers withboth being very danceable indeed, yet the same band and get down deep and mournful too; especially on the most Blues-Wailing 4 O’clock in The Morning and the spine tingling Nothing Left Between Us, then of course when Kevin McCann goes into crooning mode alongside some sweet, sweet saxophone on Ready For Goodbye you will go all weak at the knees; or at least I did.
Without knowing the band I presume it generally revolves around singer and guitarist Kevin McCann who makes the strings sizzle throughout and his voice is quite splendid too; especially on the divine Rather Be Lonesome and the swinging Can’t Believe She’s Mine, which was an early contender for the Favourite Track title.
In between there are treats left right and centre with some amazing harmonica from Dave Holtzman throughout and he also gets to sing on the stomper Trouble In The Jungle and the classic Six Strong Men which now sounds as fresh as a daisy in these capable hands.
Choosing a favourite song for you hasn’t been easy; as I’ve been tempted to go for the two referencing the demon drink; Drinkin’ Wine on My Dime and the title track Lock Up The Liquor itself, which must both be highlights of their concerts but I’m going for an instrumental, which is a rarity at RMHQ, but Cotton Mouth (Tribute to James Cotton) doesn’t need words, as the rip-snorting playing from all concerned is Blues Deluxe around these here parts, and will easily get any juke joint jumpin’!
The Little Rooster Blues Band have tread their very own path around the backroads of Pennsylvania and neighbouring States for thirty years and are unlikely to ever win a Grammy; but boy oh boy can they knock out a glorious Blues tune or two!
Released July 15th 2018
LOVE IS AN ARMY
Fathead Records/Blue Elan
Music That Transcends Both the Blues and Even Soul
Although this is Janiva Magness’ 14th album I only discovered her 4 years ago and have been slowly working my way through her back catalogue ever since; so was pretty damn excited to receive two copies of her latest release……one from her American PR and the other the European one.
As usual I have to start by explaining that the Blues comes in a million shades and Janiva Magness plys her trade in the cooler more Soulful end of the spectrum.
The opening track Back To Blue is a perfect example of why Janiva was a Grammy nominee in 2016, her distinctive velvety voice soars on an absolute heartbreaker that is perfect for people of a certain age who remember the halcyon days of Dusty Springfield and Aretha in their glory years.
Things get a little more spikier on the next track Hammer; with a punchy drumbeat fighting with Charlie Musselwhite on a sparkling harmonica as Janiva ‘shakes her thang’ as the band get in a groove well worthy of the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
As is the way when you have a reputation like Ms Magness a couple of guest stars make appearances on a couple of tracks; with the legendary Rusty Young supplying some sublime pedal-steel during On And On which is a bit of a departure for the Blues Diva; but not too far left of centre that it doesn’t fit in.
Delbert McClinton makes an appearance on the lonely love song What I Could Do; taking this duet into ‘timeless territory’ and just perfect for late night radio somewhere in Lonelyville.
RMHQ favourite Cedric Burnside brings his urban Roots specialities to Home; which has a choir of Angels backing the pair on a song so atmospheric you can virtually smell the flowers on the hills as Janiva gives the powerful lyrics everything she has in her armoury.
When I played this album in the car I found myself reaching for the dial to turn the volume up a couple of notches on Tell Me, What’s That Say About You and the Gospel drenched Some Kind of Love which finds the singer alone at a piano; not because they are ‘Rockers’ but because they all deserved to give me a sensory overload; that being simple background music wasn’t fair on Dave Darling’s sparkling production.
Where to go for a favourite song? Love To a Gunfight has to be a contender with its clever lyrics and story coupled with some sublime guitar from Dave Darling, but I’m going for the classy title track Love Is An Army. As everyone knows I’m a sucker for a love song; and this one oozes lurve like an oil slick; with the words and music and most importantly the way Janiva and Bryan Stephens weave their voices around each other the song transcends both the Blues and even Soul in the way only Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson managed many years ago.
A couple of months ago I got into a heavy debate about Artistes ‘recording the same album over and over again’ versus ‘Artistes constantly changing direction and challenging themselves.’ I fall into the latter camp and find myself being proud of Janiva Magness for having the courage to make an album that is distinctively a Janiva Magness album (what else could it be with ‘that voice’?) but creating individual songs that may be out of her core fans comfort zone; although I certainly think all of their preconceptions should disappear the second time they play this album.
Here’s my forecast……..Grammy Nominee in 2016……Grammy WINNER in 2018!
Released 23rd February 2018