I have a ‘guilty confession’ …… I think I took a dislike to Kaia’s last album NINE PINS before I’d even played it because she is sporting a banjo on the cover. I remember playing it once, but it never got reviewed…..I guess because of my Anti-Banjo racism at that particular time. I get like that with banjos. Sorry. Now that’s out of the way; let’s get back to today and young Ms Kater’s 5th, album in a fairly short recording career. Opening track New Colossus was released as a single back in October 2018, and as far as I know only got one UK play; on the groundbreaking Leader’s American Pie which is a damn shame; as it’s a luscious modern Folk song of grand proportions that shimmers and shines; and showcases both Kaia’s exciting songwriting ability and her pearlescent voice. I’ve certainly heard a lot weaker songs on Bob Harris’s various shows on BBC Radio 2; and that’s for sure. The accompanying Press Release can be a bit pompous at times; but does go someway to explaining the story behind the short interludes that intersperse several tracks; as it turns out to be Kaia’s father describing the time and events that surrounded his leaving the island of Grenada and moving to Canada……. powerful stuff indeed, especially Death of a Dream and in the same vein a couple of fascinating songs evolve from these stories; most notably the La Misere, an a’ Capella song sung in a French dialect and the title track Grenades; a cool late night Jazz tinged Folk song on which Kaia channels her inner Nina Simone to tell a harrowing story about her father’s homeland of Grenada; as the young Canadian delves into her roots and comes out with two amazing songs. Without knowing too much about Kaia Kater’s history or indeed back catalogue; GRENADES sounds a very ‘grown up’ album; and maybe it’s a Canadian thing; but the way several songs are constructed they remind me of Joni Mitchell post Blue; have a listen to Hydrants or Poets Be Buried and tell me I’m wrong. Selecting a Favourite Track on an album like this is never going to be easy; and as in the case of the Single there’s no real outlet these days for songs like these apart from your home stereo; which is a damn shame; but if you do only download one track let it be Canyonland; which even though has a banjo as the lead instrument (!) is a fabulous example of what is possible and available in the Modern Folk idiom and will make you want to download the rest of the album to see of Kaia Kater can match the quality of this nigh perfect four minutes; and she does! This is far from being a Concept Album; but in light of the world that the current incumbent in the White House is creating GRENADES asks some very fascinating questions and really does show a a young woman at the crossroads of an exciting career.
Sadly I rarely get the time these days to let albums ‘grow on me’; but my workload this week has meant that reviews had to go on the back burner until the weekend; so I left this beauty in the car stereo and my patience has most certainly been rewarded. Not for the first time recently SHAKE YOUR LOVE AROUND didn’t quite capture my attention when I first played it a couple of weeks ago, but there was ‘something’ in Suzie Vinnick’s voice that made me want to come back to it; then on Sunday night ‘BINGO’ it hit me. Hypothetically, if Bonnie Raitt was a cocktail she’d most likely be an Old Fashioned with it’s exotic blend of fiery whisky and exotic herbs; so using that logic Suzie Vinnick would be a Gin Fizz……..smooth but with an occasional sweet and sour after taste; and with more than one cherry on the top! Some rather funky guitar chords open Happy as Hell before Ms. Vinnick’s sultry voice glides into the groove on a bitter sweet late night Urban Blues song that is just perfect for the last dance. Maybe it’s the mood I’ve been in recently; but these predominantly sad tales have really captured my heart; with the harmonies on Lean Into The Light and Find Some Freedom, mercifully taking the edge off two raw heart-breakers and later on the winsome Drift Away she could bring a tear to a glass eye! As aficionados know, there can be a playful side to The Blues Too and Suzie Vinnick shows her sassy side on All I Wanna Do and the mildly anthemic Find Some Freedom, which, I’m sure will have the mobile phones held aloft when played in concert. Many of my favourite Blues artistes have always occasionally flirted with Jazz at times; and that’s the case here on Creaking Pines and perhaps A Hundred and Ten In The Shade too; but in fairness that’s the type of Southern Blues that dips it’s toe into many musical ponds and comes out fresh and cool in equal measures. While it was most certainly Suzie Vinnick’s vocals that brought me back here; but she sure plays a mean guitar too, which is probably why I made the Bonnie Raitt connection. Listen to her make her electric guitar moan and groan in time to the clever lyrics and story in Watch Me and an acoustic on the beautifully incisive Golden Rule when she goes all Laurel Canyon for us. As I said at the beginning there are certainly a couple of ‘cherries on the top’ of this Gin Fizz of an album; Lean Into The Light is just one of those songs that it’s difficult to put into words why you like it; but that bass-line (again provided by Ms Vinnick) is straight outta the Chic play book, but the song is Blues Deluxe! The other Joint Winner of the RMHQ Favourite Song Accolade is Danger Zone and it’s actually a bit of an oddity as it’s just Suzie accompany herself on the bass guitar; but bizarrely it works a lot better than it has any right to. In a ‘blind tasting’ I doubt anyone would hear this album and guess Suzie Vinnick is Canadia born and bred; but she is and that possibly even helps her sound as cool and reverential as she does throughout this dozen quite exquisite songs. Shake The Love Around? It’s a keeper!
It’s Christmas!!!!!! Earlier this year we instantly loved Secret Spot the 6th album from Canadian songstress Mel Dekker; so couldn’t wait to hear her new Christmas Song; but being the pedant I am had to wait until this morning; December 1st before I could play it and it’s everything I’d hoped it would be!
Epic, Brooding and Emotional Americana From Canada.
At last! Our friends from Toronto, LeBarons have finally finished their debut full length album and are releasing it out into the wild, after nurturing, developing and growing the songs for well over two years now.
Let’s not dwell on the mishap which meant RMHQ got missed off the original mail-out; because “all good things come to he who waits” or some nonsense like that.
We still play their phenomenal EP ALLISTON on an irregular basis in the office; so anything new has to be exciting, doesn’t it?
Will it be different?
Will it be the same?
Will it be better?
Phew……………opener Long Highway far exceeds my fanboy expectations; as an almost military beat from the bass and drums add to the atmospheric production on a wonderful ‘road song’ worthy of The Travelling Wilburys or Little Feat if they’d come from Nashville.
BOOM! The next song Bad News wasn’t what I was expecting at all; it’s as if there was a power surge in the studio as every instrument sounds 5 x faster, louder and tighter as Chris MacDonald opines his bad luck in life AND love as the band support him with the most muscular harmonies I’ve ever heard in my life; and I only wish that this had closed the album as I’m sure it will be ‘that sort of song’ when played live….with the audience shouting along with the glorious choruses.
Now I’ve got my head around them; the songs are indeed ‘fuller’ and ‘more seasoned’ than on the debut; but that’s to be expects as these crazy cats have spent as much time on the road as in the studio in the interim.
While the band is so much more than just Chris MacDonald and a bunch of mates; his songwriting has somehow managed to move on leaps and bounds, with Quiet and Waste which follows it; both having a kind of coiled spring ambience to them…… leaving you on tenterhooks as both songs play out and build to a brain penetrating climax.
To some degree LeBarons have reined back their quintessential Canadianness here; going for a more earthy transient sound that will suit listening tastes all across the English speaking world (and beyond hopefully!). Until It Goes is an Alt. Country song, but only in as much as it really is a cool Country song with a pneumatic rhythm section and more Twang from the guitars than you’ll hear in a whole weekend in the Horseshoe Lounge.
Then there is the Border Land Country of Power Lines which somehow sits perfectly comfortably straight after the almost ‘experimental’ title track SUMMER OF DEATH, which leads us down a dark and dangerous path into Gothic Canadiacana, if such a thing exists!
I haven’t really had a lot of time to pore over ever song I intimate detail; but a couple of songs on a rather exceptional record really do stand out; the haunting Born in ’76 which sounds like LeBarons are singing and playing behind a tattered velvet curtain in a seedy nightclub as the bar staff clean up around them.
Then there is the potent Brand New Sound which sounds like something concocted after a long night driving along the back roads as a storm howls around and only Bruce and The Clash on the car stereo. As the title suggests it is a brand new sound for LeBarons and in its own way is the lynch pin for everything else here; and for that reason is the RMHQ Favourite Track, by a country mile.
The lyrics sound as if they are both introspective and observational in equal measures; perhaps they are and perhaps they aren’t; but first and foremost this is an album is simply great to listen to under any and all circumstances plus, it has the hallmarks of being a Game Changer for my favourite band from Toronto.
THE SECRET OF CLIMBING
Warm and Intimate Back To Basics Songs From Canadian Legend.
While I had two albums by Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, I wasn’t aware of their status in Canadian or especially North American popular culture until three years ago; and even then the constituent parts were still a mystery to me.
HA!!! Since then I have become something of a convert and evangelist for their cause; perhaps none more so than Stephen Fearing whose EVERY SOUL’S A SAILOR was a huge hit on the website in 2017 and still receives more ‘reads’ than I could ever expect; plus I still keep it in the car for ‘emergencies’ when I need to hear something to soothe my tortured soul.
Which all brings us to Fearing’s 11th solo release; and possibly his most fascinating?
Before I discuss the actual music and songs I have to tell you about the background to the recording, as it’s intricate to the overall story.
As a lifelong advocate of ‘authentic music’ and a man who has been ‘chasing his musical sweet spot’ forever, for THE SECRET OF CLIMBING Stephen has collaborated with Roy Gandy from Hi-Fi specialists Rega Research and legendary Mastering Engineer Ray Staff to create music that was originally destined for a Vinyl Only release which the trio feel is the ‘one true format’ to recreate the sound that the artiste hears inside his head.
Recorded over just two days in a tiny; but pitch perfect English studio with just Fearing, his Manzer acoustic guitar and 7 songs from his past and one outstanding cover version this beautifully intimate collection starts with a pin sharp rendition of Johnny’s Lament in which you can hear every single note and breath he takes as our Canadian troubadour pours his heart out like a dying man begging for forgiveness on his death bed.
A similar sense of melancholy and heartache weave’s through all eight songs here; none more so than Just In Time To Say Goodbye which follows. A song I’m not familiar with; so I can’t ‘compare and contrast’ but why would I want to when this version grabbed my senses and virtually squeezed the life out of them until I was a quivering mess.
Liking music has, and always will be subjective, which is why I’m always left despairing to hear songwriting and the majestic way Stephen delivers his words and melodies on The Things We Did and When My Baby Calls My Name and remember this guy isn’t lauded around the world in even 10% of the manner that Ed Sheeran is!
With that in mind; you have to remember that there are no overdubs, gadgetry or general ‘studio trickery’ involved in this recording, the magic here is just one mans, a guitar and a bunch of well-crafted songs.
The single cover version here is the Tom Waits Time; and Fearing somehow manages to bring out a new ragged beauty from Wait’s poetic words with some Spartan guitar playing and his own velvety world weary voice.
With only 8 songs here selecting a Favourite is nigh on impossible. Obviously the title track from the 217 album Every Soul’s A Sailor was already an RMHQ favourite; but stripped back to the scorched bone it twice had me sitting stock still and desperately trying not to breathe too loudly in case I missed a note or nuance; but then again the microscopic observations in Red Lights In The Rain and the sprightly The Things We Did both could and should scoop the accolade with ease on most albums; but I’m going for the breath-taking Long Walk To Freedom which made me go “Bloody Hell! That’s a Blackie and the Rodeo Kings song” the third time I played it; such is the difference in styles.
The delicious irony here is that while so much work has gone into making this recording specifically for 180 gram Vinyl with artwork designed specifically for a gatefold sleeve; I’ve been listening to a download on my laptop via two £25 speakers; and the results still knock the socks off most other recordings I’ve heard this year.
AHA…. The Dynamic Trio realised this would be the case; and while every step of recording and production was designed for vinyl, so according to Fearing “the album is being released into a mobile-driven world. So to accommodate these seemingly competing realities Audio Engineer David Travers-Smith (co-producer of Every Soul’s a Sailor) developed a digital download for The Secret of Climbing so that the files were lifted directly from the album’s test pressing and would preserve the detail and warmth of analogue as faithfully as possible.”
Even the Vinyl pressing was sent to a much researched and specialist plant in Germany……. so I hope you appreciate everything that has gone into this very special record!
ALL THAT RECKONING
Proper Records/Latent Recordings
Canadiacana Revisited (Songs for the heart and brain)
Is it really 30 years since I first heard Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis) on the radio? Apparently so; as the album it came from, the imperial Trinity Sessions is celebrating it’s 30th Anniversary later this year.
It’s fair to say that album was not just a ‘Gateway’ to my listening pleasures, but also a pivotal album in my collection as it tipped all my previous thoughts on music into a muddy ditch and helped move me into a far more grown up world of music appreciation.
So; it was with a slight tightening in the chest and butterflies in my stomach that I first played this, their 13th (?) full length album.
Oh dear; I didn’t ‘get it’. Just like all those albums that followed PALE SUN, CRESCANT MOON, it was obviously the Cowboy Junkies with Margot’s exquisite vocals and Michael quietly dictating the sounds, but no…..I didn’t ‘get it’.
Then two weeks later I thought I’d give it another go on a flight to New York, so with eye mask on and headphones pressed tightly against my ears I thought ‘here goes’.
This proved to be the perfect setting; not a sunny back garden as I’d tried previously.
Even from the opening track All That Reckoning Pt1, you are faced with a sensory overload, and not just from Margot Timmins’ unmistakeable voice and the Cowboy Junkies trademarked Lo-Fi bass and guitar combo; but the stark lyrics come at you like the suns rays through a Summer fog;
“I took my heart and laid it on the floor/you took my heart and softly asked for more.”
Not just on this song, but on several others Michael Timmins employs what sounds like an Alt. Chamber Orchestra to compliment their normal ‘Rock’ instrumentation; which on The Things That We Do To Each Other and Wooden Stairs takes us into the ‘darkest of hearts territory’ normally associated with Leonard Cohen; and just like him leaves you smiling through pursed lips; such is the intensity and beauty that this band can create.
Speaking of intensity on Sing Me a Song, the band throw down the challenge flag to Alt. Rockers like Muse and even U2 with some searing guitar and a rhythm section steeped in the oil from a Corvettes sump, to create a song that will send a shiver down your spine.
The Cowboy Junkies can create a poetically atmospheric song like no other, in my humble opinion and with Nose Before Ear and Mountain Streams they challenge the listeners perceptions of what is and isn’t Rock music; and come out proving that they were and are correct and this listener came out educated and enthused by both; and just about everything else too.
Where to go for a Favourite Song’? Obviously there’s no Blue Moon Revisited or Cheap Is How I Feel here; why would there be? Those days are long gone; this is a hardback book not just an essay; these songs need to be listened to in isolation (as I did on that flight for 5 hours) but I will point you to The Possessed which closes the record; for it’s unclouded simplicity and Missing Children as examples of a band who stand on the Rock precipice writing and performing songs, so beautiful they will not just take your breath away but wonder where the concept came from; but I’m actually selecting Shining Teeth as my favourite; for all of those reasons and everything that went before; but the judicial use of an organ takes the song through a fairground and comes out at a funeral.
Perhaps their last half dozen albums passed me by because I wasn’t ready for them; as the Cowboy Junkies have always and still do tread their very own artistic path, with Michael Timmins not caring a jot for commercial success; but absolutely craving artistic success like an addict and he achieves those wild ambitions with every song on this wonderful creation.
The Old Cinema Launderette
26th April 2018
This has been a funny old year for me and Live Music. It’s not so very long ago I went to 2 or 3 gigs every week; yet in 2018 I’ve only been to 5 (and walked out of two of them!); so going out on a school night after a 5.30 am alarm call for a 10 hour shift at work was quite a big deal.
But, Jerry Leger is a big deal at RMHQ after discovering him earlier this year via his new album Nonsense & Heartache, which we love with all our hearts.
Also; this amazing venue……an actual working Launderette has been on my radar for a couple of years and this was to be my debut, which again made the whole night especially exciting.
Opening act was a male/female Folk duo called *Steamtown; apparently from the pretty market town of Knaresbrough just down the road.
With time being of the essence they only got to perform 5 songs; with two being ‘about trains’, one about ‘drinking’ and two more about ‘the things that keep you awake at night.’
While undoubtedly a Folk Act, the inclusion of a low slung banjo and red hot harmonica (both played by the lady in the act) made them a lot more interesting than I’d expected with a song about the ‘traumas of dating later in life’ About It All being a highlight of the whole night.
Although not quite sold out, the tiny venue was still full enough to create a palpable sense of excitement as Jerry and his bandmates swiftly made their way to the makeshift stage in front of three industrial sized washing machines.
With only three ceiling lights alongside some buses and occasional blue flashing lights from the other side of the plate glass windows illuminating the quartet they opened their first set with the mellow and melodic Things Are Changing, which set the mood for an intimate and windswept evening of Canadiacana.
Playing fast and loose with their back catalogue alongside the new album the band delivered 21 songs in just under two hours; and not a single one felt like ‘filler.’
While I was very familiar with the new songs; the others; especially Den of Sin, Nobody’s Angel and Early Riser which felt like old friends revisiting us even though I’d never heard them before.
Of the other songs on offer, the toe-tapping Baby’s Got a Rare Gun and Big Smoke taking us back to the Rock n Roll days of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison and (although my friends disagreed) I thought the magical Den of Sin reminded me of Ram era McCartney.
With the room being so small the audience got to see all of the complex and intricate constituent parts coming together first hand that make such magical music appear so deceptively simple.
First and foremost Jerry Leger is a first-class storyteller in the best traditions of Dylan and Springsteen but there’s a distinctive air of Canadian Cool to the way he sings them, including plenty of detail but leaving space for the listener to interperate them in their own personal way.
His band are quite exceptional too; with a drummer that made every single note exciting and shiver inducing in equal measures, a bass player who could sound like gentle thunder and a heart beating when needed and a guy who made his lap-steel sizzle and shine but when he played his fiddle, the room all took a collective breath.
Add all of that together and you will find a very special night in a very special venue; and I can’t recommend seeing Jerry Leger play live or buy his albums highly enough.
Another Cool, Classy and Articulate Canadian Singer-Songwriter
Although still ploughing through the backlog of review discs this one from March stuck out of the pile. Partly because the bright colours and use of shadow on the cover artwork intrigued the photographer in me, but more likely because Melanie Dekker looks uncannily like an ex-Daughter in Law (whom we still like btw!)
So with no knowledge of what to expect, into the office CD the disc slid and………..opening track Memories of You was a very pleasant surprise indeed. Sort of Folky, definitely Singer-Songwriter fare but with a melodic edgy Pop sensitivity to it too. Confused? Don’t be, it’s the sort of song that we bought in our millions by Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow and of course Joni Mitchell.
There’s an effortless grace to songs like Try Me (The Basket Song) and More Human, but when you listen closely Melanie’s storytelling drifts into an area of eloquent melancholia normally associated with writers like Beth Neilsen Chapman or Gretchen Peters and they are just as beautiful too.
While most songs are guitar led, one jarred the first time I heard it, but thankfully Better When We Do with it’s Wurlitzer piano ‘beat’ and Jazzy trumpet has finally grown on me and now it’s become a challenger for ‘Favourite Song’ status.
Melanie Dekker can certainly ‘tell a story in a song’ as the uptempo Ginned Up proves and will appeal to housewives across the globe who occasionally need to be told “you’re my sugar baby, darlin’, sweetie/you’re my sunshine when it rains,” even if they do have a real name.
Two songs here tie for the title of RMHQ Favourite; and both are intrinsically different but both come from the same deeply private parts of the Vancouver Songwriter’s life. Te Amor Mucho, as the title suggests has an almost Country sensibility to it, and Melanie’s love song to a music loving father on his death bed will tug at even the tightest of heart strings. The other, Always Gonna Be is a tale of a Mother passing on her own Mother’s words of wisdom as the third generation is about to make her own way in the world and actually reminded me of a conversation I had with an elder brother the night before I got married……therefore bringing unstoppable tears to my eyes.
Album closer When It’s Over also finds Melanie at the piano; but this time a traditional Rhodes which is more suited to the fog of sadness that the lyrics project making it a perfect way to close this very personal record.
Cool Bluegrass and Classic North American Folk for People Who Hate Bluegrass and Classic North American Folk Music!
When I first received this album I accidentally read the accompanying Press Release before hearing the contents…….’A signature blend of Bluegrass and Classic Folk’ it read. Yikes……all I needed was something like ‘Prog Rock overtones’ too and it might have gone straight in the bin unheard!
So, with caution and plenty of scepticism I pressed ‘play’….oh dear…..that is a banjo if I’m not mistaken…..yes it is; but within 30 seconds a grizzled voice, a mandolin and a cello joins it and the mood is immediately cranked up to 11 as Boots gets the party started with gusto.
Oh dear; I can’t believe how easily I fell under the spell of these crazy Canadians The Deep South’s spell……but who won’t with dancetastic songs like Smootchin in the Ditch, One Armed Man and Deadman’s Chew too?
There are surprises around every corner; and good ones too. I expected The Good Lord to be some kind of God Fearing Gospel song……but, Hell No! These kids know how to coral ‘lovin, cheatin, drinkin and cussin’ songs in a way that left me smiling like a Cheshire Cat.
On a similar theme it took me a couple of plays to unravel Time For Crawlin’ but when I did it really tickled me and has a chorus that just begs to be sang along to……very loud.
If you’ve not heard of the Dead South before; think if ever Quentin Tarantino made a film about the Beverley Hillbillies he needn’t look any further than Hard Day, Miss Mary and the cinematic Massacre of El Kuroke for his soundtrack.
Then of course I am obliged to choose a Favourite Song’ and I can’t look further than the epic closing track Gunslinger’s Glory with it’s Waltz-like ending which epitomises everything good about ILLUSION & DOUBT. It’s a bit Bluegrass, a bit Old Timey Country, a bit quirky and the musicianship, harmonies and singing all combine perfectly on a sublime tale of the New Old West and coming in at just over 8 minutes but sounding like 3.
I’ve seen and heard plenty of groups like The Dead South over the years; but the majority come across as too ‘reverential’ and ‘earnest’ in their quest to sound like the originators but the Dead South sound like they not only appreciate the work of their forefathers and ‘genuinely know their stuff’ but they predominantly want to have fun, and share that fun with listeners all over the world.
Well, dear reader I’ve played it a few times now and, while it does contain plenty of Bluegrass and Classic Folk; there is oh so much more in the grooves here that is actually enjoyable and their professional Punky/Sloppy approach makes it Bluegrass and Classic North American Folk for people like me who hate Bluegrass and Classic North American Folk Music!
HEARTBREAK SONG FOR THE RADIO
Atmospherically Tightly Wrapped Songs Drenched In Harmonies And Heartache
Sadly this CD has been sitting in the back of the ‘to do’ box for a couple of months now; probably because it didn’t have a Press Release with it; but in my defence I have been rather busy lately then last week a friend wrote a glowing review of a concert on a UK Tour (which didn’t include the NE btw) and I thought “I think I have an album by said combo” and I did…..and The Lynnes are actually RMHQ favourites Lynne Hanson and Lynn Miles from Canada Town!!
HEY HO….Better late than never?
Opening song Cold Front sets the mood perfectly; one sensational female voice complimented by the other on harmonies on an atmospherically tightly wrapped song that straddles Country, Folk and whatever we think of as Americana albeit from Canada.
As we know both women are accomplished singers and songwriters in their own rite, but together they move up several rungs of the success ladder with ease and grace.
There’s even a hint of the Everly Brothers on Recipe For Disaster but the gorgeous title track Heartbreak Song For The Radio and Dark Waltz are exactly the type of lo-fi Canadiacana we have come to expect from the land of the Maple Leaf and these two ladies themselves.
I first discovered Lynne Hanson via her Murder Ballads album; so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when darkly delicate songs like Blame It On The Devil and Blue Tattoo make an appearance out of left field towards the end.
Perhaps it’s the subject matter of these two songs; but I’d love to hear Tom Russell cover at least one and preferably sing it or them alongside The Lynnes; I think the end result could be extraordinarily good.
OK, regular readers will know I am self-absorbed but I really do think that the punchy Halfway To Happy and Heavy Lifting could have been written about ME! Both delve into the darker recesses of Country Music and come out the other side with lyrics and a song that will squeeze the heartstrings of anyone who has loved and lost or; as in my own case people who feel sorry for themselves……just because.
Both are full of stinging couplets and stories that transcend the backwaters of Roots Music; hence they tie for the accolade of RMHQ ‘favourite song’ on this wonderful long playing album.