Real Deal Authentic and Thought Provoking Modern Country.
Aaron Watson first graced our pages way back in 2016 when we highlighted a single; then nothing until last year when another single appeared to promote a small UK Tour then nothing until now; and it appears he’s become an overnight star ! Well; I know he’s put a hard shift in over the last 20 years or so ….. but; well ….. you know what I mean! As I do, I played this album a couple of last week and while a few songs stick in my mind, it wasn’t until Thursday morning when I slid the disc in the car stereo for a road trip to North Northumberland that ‘it hit me’; and soon I was pretending I was in a Ford Mustang speeding around the back roads of Wyoming (I have a good imagination). Just like last week opening track The Ghost of Guy Clark sounded sublime in the Summer sunshine; but today the story unravelled a bit more and I eventually decided that this was going to not just be my Favourite Song here; but just may be my Song of the Year …… it’s going to take something really, really special to better this, trust me. RED BANDANA is a bit of an emotional and musical roller-coaster with Watson galloping through a couple of Rockers with gusto and potency with Dark Horse and Kiss That Girl Goodbye being sure fire fan favourites ‘in concert’ and Live or Die Trying; while a bit ‘sentimental’ for my tastes is the type of Gung-Ho Country that will have them dancing in the aisles. Personally I prefer Watson’s more soulful slower songs; but as I say that’s my taste; but when his Good Ole Boy fans hear Blood Brothers, I hope it makes them look deep into their souls and question their political allegiances. Oddly in this day and age the album is made up of 20 songs; and normally I would question Watson’s quality control filter; but within reason every song here is worthy of release; with the singer taking us into some interesting territory on Burn Em’ Down and To Be The Moon, but Dark Horse, You On My Hands and Shake a Heartache are are all classy Modern Country; and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If it hadn’t been for that Guy Clark song either of Riding With Red or the title track Red Bandana would surely have been my Favourite Song; and there’s still time …… but both tick all of the boxes I have for a sentimental and romantic song; although in this case I *presume ‘Red’ of Red Bandana fame is Watson’s Grandfather and obviously still an inspiration to the songwriter to this very day. Both Country Radio and Legends are ‘preaching to the choir’ but both are rather exceptional songs that look back to the Glory Days; and I did find myself mouthing the words a couple of times. Watson isn’t afraid to tread off the traditional Country Radio Format at times; El Comienzo Del Viaje and Blood Brothers spring to mind; but none more so than the very brave song, 58 which closes is the album, and the all too brief 58 seconds feel like a punch to the gut when you realise that Watson is singing about the 58 who lost there lives …… no….. were murdered in Las Vegas in 2017.
I’ve been in several arguments over the last few years as to what Country Music ‘is’ in 2019; and while it covers a lot of areas …….. Aaron Watson and his songs are as authentic as they come these days; he’s the Real Deal in a way many of the Huge Hat acts that adorn the magazines could ever dream of being.
Hey! Hey! Hey! Putting the Western Swing Into Honky-Tonking Classic Country!
This is another album where tracks keep popping up on my I-Phone ‘random selector’; but yesterday was the first time I’ve actually sat down and listened to it from start to finish. Being the old duffer I am, I remember when Akron, Ohio was the Capital of Alternative Music and seemed the most exotic place on earth; so it’s probably no real surprise that Akronites Ryan Humbert (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Brian Poston (electric & acoustic guitar) would find each other via a mutual love of proper Country music and go on to record their own version in all it’s glory and occasionally glamour. Opening track Cleaning House virtually crackles with excitement as the guitars Twang like a call of nature; and the ‘ear-worm’ chorus ain’t too bad either. As is common in the modern idiom The Shootouts cleverly draw bits and pieces from lots of Classic genres to make what becomes their very own swaggering style; giving us some crash-bang Rockabilly (or is it Honky-Tonk?) with Who Needs Rock & Roll and If I Could both leaving you breathless by the end and even the title track Quick Draw as an instrumental sounds like Duanne Eddy and Link Wray having a shoot-out at the OK Coral wine bar in downtown Akron! With so much history to draw from, The Shootouts manage to do their melancholy love songs with ease and grace, making Lonely Never Let Me Down and the pedal-steelfest that is Losing Faith in Being Faithful sounding like dusty old 60’s Country love songs that have been gussied up, cherished and refreshed by their owners; but they are actually brand new from the box. For me; and I hope you too, this album is totally refreshing in such a mad world that we find ourselves in today; and three songs in particular have caught my attention and tugged at my tired old heartstrings. If We Quit Now not just stars that sublime pedal-steel again, but just when you’re not expecting them a string section of Buddy Holly proportions sweep in and whisk you off into Country Music Heaven for three minutes or so. Then, Radio Jesus is definitely a song that defies genre and it’s only the subject matter that makes you realise that it is a contemporary Country song of the Alternative persuasion; and the other song is one I instantly recognised; though I doubt 99.9% of record buyers will. Each time my I-Phone has played the jaunty It Must Be Love my brain presumed it was some olde songe from ye darke ages; possibly an Everly Brothers minor hit; then I finally read the Press Release. Damn my eyes and curse my memory! It Must Be Love is already a Favourite Song on RMHQ by it’s writer, the divine Stacey Earle (aunt of Justin T and sister of Steve) who has been a favourite here for many years. If you only buy or listen to one song, make it this and then, not only buy QUICK DRAW but then discover the delights of Stacey Earle herself. You won’t regret it. If there’s a downside to this album (and there isn’t) it would be finding a category to comfortably fit it into in a Record Shop…… or perhaps that’s the cunning plan; the shop has to buy five copies to put one each into Country, Honky Tonk, Rockabilly, Western Swing and even Americana. Clever that!
My best mate and mentor Alan Cackett is doing his yearly clear out of ‘review LP’s’ that he has received from across the spectrum of Country Music in the last year or so. All are Country 12” LPs – all are brand new and mint condition
The following are 12” Vinyl LPs – there is only one of each available.
They are all in brand new mint condition. Though they are priced up, any sensible offers will be considered. Postage is additional.
Do not send any payment until it has been confirmed that the items that you want are still available.
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Please write or e-mail: email@example.com and tell him we sent you! Alan Cackett, 24 Bray Gardens, Maidstone, Kent, ME15 9TR;
Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules Live Mules! Self-Release
Bringing the Good Times Back to Country-Blues!
This delightful little album from Glasgow’s finest purveyors of Countryish Music was recorded three years ago when the band were in the support slot for The Stray Birds in a hall in Scotland’s ‘Murder Capital’ ………Shetland (if the TV series is to be believed!) and only came to light a couple of months ago when Dan was having a bit of a ‘sort out’ of some tapes. With only a tweak here and there the clarity of this recording puts many bigger names to shame and with so little chat belies the fact that this is a Live Album at all. Rising River Blues comes from a Meade solo outing and gets new fizz added with the band absolutely on fire behind the chirpy singer-songwriter. If you’ve ever seen Daniel play live, in any of his guises you will know he visibly enjoys what he does, which is a rarity in this industry, and that comes across especially on the self-effacing Let Me Off at the Bottom and If It’s Not Your Fault (I Guess It’s Mine) which also features some staggeringly intricate guitar work from Lloyd Reid too. Earlier I described Meade’s music as ‘Countryish’, which it is, but there’s a healthy dose of olde worlde Blues in the mixer too; which comes to the fore on their rip-roaring cover of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s Hooray! Hooray! which closes the record in fabulouso fashion. That Country-Blues hybrid is probably the template for the two singles that are included here too, their first ever being Long Gone Wrong and the twisted love song Please Louise which was their most recent at the time of recording. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, “This album is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you gonna get;” which brings me to my Favourite Song here, There’s a Headstone Where Her Heart Used To Be; a fairly simple song originally but here it becomes a veritable Country Hoedown, with Meade pouring his heart out in his best George Jones fashion, but with a punk spine to it. I absolutely love it! Live Mules! Has been something of a ‘palette cleanser’ for me recently as I’ve used it in the car as a ‘bit of fun’ to tap my toes to in between listening to more ‘righteous’ and ‘serious’ albums by the great and the good; and everything from Mark Ferrie’s pneumatic bass playing, Thomas Ferrie’s rat-a-tat-tat drumming and Lloyd Reid’s understated yet still flamboyant guitaring and of course Dan’s distinctive singing have made my heart swell and occasionally skip a beat on a bunch of sharply observed and really smartly written songs ; and I can’t recommend this highly enough; especially if you want an introduction to the rare talent that is Daniel Meade for only £3.99!
These Telecasters Tell a Classy Country Music Story .
Where to start? Arlen Roth is described as both ‘legendary’ and ‘acclaimed’ in the accompanying Press Release and looking at the long list of guest contributors to his latest (and 16th album!) yet I’ve never heard of him. A brief look at his Wikipedia page show us that while he’s not too shy in the limelight; he’s best known for his work behind the scenes be it onstage, on record, on film or via his prestigious ‘How To’ books and video or even his time as a columnist in Guitar Player magazine! Here, Roth demonstrates and showcases the versatility of the Fender Company’s Telecaster guitar on a number of well known songs and tunes from across the decades and playing alongside some of the biggest names in the Music Industry. The Twangtastic Remington Ride starts the party with a joyous ramble alongside Steve Wariner; and the way the notes fly out of the speakers you can easily imagine both players alongside Cindy Cashdollar on lap-steel were all grinning like ninnies during the recording. For the pedants out there, there’s nothing really new or innovative here, so if that’s what you’re looking for STOP READING now; as this is an album dedicated to an industry’s love affair with a guitar….. no more and no less; and the result is beautiful beyond words. Jack Pearson’s vocals on Key To The Highway take this rendition into Eric Clapton territory via JJ Cale on decaf coffee, it’s that laid back; but the guitar work is still mind boggling. There are classic tunes associated with Fender’s finest here left, right and centre with Will Ray making Rumble even sleazier than I remember and Joe Bonamassa making his guitar strings sound like they are made from pure silk on Joe’s Blues; and the Titan of the Telecaster, William Kirchen esq. does what he does better than anyone else on this instrument on the magnificent Tuff Tele; while a song I would normally associate with a Gibson SG (I too can be pedantic!) Chuck Berry’s Promised Land gets added Country Twang via Jerry Donahue, and Sweet Mikey C’s smooth vocals are a credit to behold. But, it’s the surprises that are totally unexpected are what make this album extra special. Mrs. Robinson a guitar song? Here it is, but anything featuring Albert Lee is going to be classy, isn’t it? Funky Mama (a tribute to Danny Gatton) which not for the first time sees Arlen Roth himself take lead is truly splendorous, as he is on the beautiful Tennessee Waltz too, when daughter Lexie Roth provides some delicious smoky vocals making me want a whole album of this two singing The Classics in this manner. Choosing a Favourite Track has been fun; as several certainly have their merits but I will choose two, the instrumental Bunky which sounds like Roth and Brad Paisley are trying to melt their strings! The other is a case of Arlen ‘keeping the best ’til last’ with a guest appearance from another undervalued ‘Legend’ Redd Volkaert on A Minor Thing, and the two sound like they are just sitting back in the studio at the end of the session as the youngsters are packing their gear away thinking,”I showed those old guys” only to receive a 6 minute effortless Masterclass in guitar playing and indeed picking from two Guitar toting Granddaddy’s with more talent in their little fingers than most hipsters will accrue in a lifetime. While pretty much each track is significantly different from what goes before it or follows, there is a definitive Classical Country thread linking everything together here, but neither a Nashville one or Bakersfield either….. this is just pure damn Country Gold….. or should that be platinum?
Bob Livingston Up The Flatland Stairs Howlin Dog Records
West of Bakersfield and East of Nashville.
With so much music floating around the ether I can’t possibly know everyone’s back catalogue when I receive a new album, and in the case of living in NE England this is especially so when it’s Country Music in most of its guises. Yet I can still feel disappointed at not knowing singer-songwriters like Texan Bob Livingston. His CV includes stints in the Lost Gonzo Band, touring the Middle East (and beyond) and being friends and writing buddies with Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jerry Jeff Walker and a host of other Austin and Nashville names from my record collection. Hey ho; enough about me. A mournful harmonica opens Bob’s sorrowful rendition of Jerry Jeff Walker’s Shell Game on the first track here and my heart immediatly began to melt, as the singer delves deep into our souls. That’s only one of three songs by someone else amid the 17 that make up Up The Flatland Stairs and alongside the dirty Twang of David Halley’s A Month of Somedays and the late Walter Hyatt’s gorgeously laid-back The Early Days show’s what immaculate and diverse taste Livingston has; but that’s not what got him inducted into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame! That would be the way he can spin from the Western Swing of Public Domain through the Honky Tonkin’ on the tongue in cheek break-up song You Got My Goat and round it all off with some good old fashioned West Coast Country Rock with Caution to the Wind and That’s The Way Things Go (featuring Eliza Gilkyson no less) and make them all go together like peaches and cream. There really is a little bit of everything ‘Country’ here, with Livingston’s warm and friendly voice being the golden thread that pulls everything together. While I hear a bit of the Bakersfield Sound in The Early Days and Cowgirl’s Lullaby I sense Bob Livingston’s Soul lives on the West Coast; as most of the songs here are designed to make you want to kick back and wallow in the emotions that are stirred up with a beer in one hand and your first love’s hand in the other. With so much to pick from selecting my Favourite Song wasn’t ever going to be easy; but the touchingly Guy Clark Influenced It Just Might Be Your Loving caught my ears last week; and it’s only got better and more intimate over the last few days. Bob Livingston is a brand new discovery to me and as such; is the driving force behind the website……. bringing the best from the shadows into the daylight. You’re welcome.
Tom Brumley & The Buckaroos Steelin’ The Show Omnivore Records
A Master-Craftsman Makes His Pedal Steel Guitar Shimmer and Sizzle
What is it with Pedal-Steel guitars that excites me so much? I think I can even recall the night on OGWT that I first saw and heard one…….. subsequently having to ask my brother Melvyn what that magic box was and even over the next ten years or so they were still as rare as hen’s teeth in British Rock & Roll. Yet today, with this disc of pure delights I now have six albums of Pedal-Steel instrumentals in my collection and I’m aware of a 7th on its way in March 2019! To the uninitiated like me Tom Brumley is probably an unknown quantity; but it turns out he was the maestro behind the Buck Owens ‘sound’ during the 1960’s and these 17 glorious tunes are all culled from that golden period of Country & Western music. *He also played in both Chris Hillman’s Band and the Desert Rose Band while also sitting in with scores of household names in the studio during the 1970’s. The album starts with a majestic two-step called Tom Cattin’ that combines some amazing guitar playing from Buck Owens and Red Simpson alongside the 100mph fiddle playing of Don Rich and Brumley’s sublime picking on the steel; and even 50 years later you can feel the excitement from the studio session. That excitement continues throughout; none more so than Seven Come Eleven and Pedal Patter which may even have been groundbreaking in 1968! Unlike today; Country Music was made for dancing to back in the 1960’s and The Buckaroos could turn their hand to whatever it took to get people on the dancefloor be it the Steel Guitar Polka, a Highland Fling or any one of a handful of beautiful waltz’s with the Waltz of the Rose’s being the finest example here; and I’m not sure what a Neosho Waltz was but I love the tune that accompanied it! Choosing a Favourite Track was never going to be easy; although the legendary solo on Together Again, as Buck Owens croons his little heart out is obviously going to be a contender; but as this is primarily an instrumental album dedicated to Tom Brumley I’m going to select Steel Guitar Rag from 1965 as it is a spine tingling showcase of all that is good about Steel Guitar playing and proves what a Master of his craft Tom Brumley surely was.
PS. Gotta love that suit he’s wearing on the cover…….what would I give to look that sharp?
“Carson McHone’s album Carousel is mostly electric barroom windups with a few satisfying ballads thrown in for twangy effectiveness.” So says the accompanying Press Release; but is that the case?
McHone hails from Austin, Texas where she cut her teeth with regular weekly engagements in the local honky-tonks. McHone rocks out effortlessly on many of these tunes and has just enough twang in her voice to keep it “real-life country for real.” The album’s kick-off song, “Sad,” is a twangy barroom jaunt and a good introduction for what’s to come. “Lucky” shifts gears emotionally to keep it surprising and interesting. “Good Time Daddy Blues” is well sung, but the production is a bit ‘paint by the numbers’ with too much generic yeehaw going on for my taste. (Now, perhaps that’s the point, McHone could be going for a classic feel on the barroom staple songs. Some of these songs do have a purposeful classic country vibe, but this one’s a bit too pat for my tastes. One needn’t have the fiddle and the pedal steel both share the solo section. Yes, classic country used to do this a lot, and it’s still done a lot, which is kind of my point.) Instead, give it over fully to one instrument and let them shine, give the player a chance to dig into it a bit and make a complete emotional statement.
Which makes “Spider Song” with its droning harmonium probably my favorite cut on this album, followed closely by “Dram Shop Girl” which comes off tender, but with a touch of darkness reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt. Both of these tunes have an innocence to them rather than naïveté that makes them work, as well as being forward thinking in their arrangements. “Drugs” with its plaintive repeating chorus: “Drugs, I need drugs, I need drugs,” is catchy and strong, and I find myself coming back to listen to it again and again, and “Gentle” is whispery and resolute in its emotional impact. These songs definitely are worth listening to over and over, as Carousel definitely gets better with each spin.
I like McHone’s voice and songs, and her band is obviously talented, but I feel this album represents a transition in McHone’s learning curve. She’s reaching for something with her art and I hope she gets there, as we will all be the better for it.
Shipcote & Friends
I’M QUITE HAPPY WITH THAT.
Low Fella Records
Laid Back Americana Full of Warmth Via NE England.
The once thriving Shipcote area of Gateshead in Tyne and Wear has all but gone now; but the name lives on as the alter-ego of one half of the Jumpin’ Hot Club and full time musical troubadour Mr Graham Anderson; of which this is his latest disc.
If you already know him and his music you will buy this CD regardless of what I have to say; as ‘once a fan, always a fan’ in my experience; but to the uninitiated he writes very clever and intricate songs about the immediate world around him and the people who inhabit it; performing them in a warm, charming and laid-back Western-Swing meets American Folk via a traditional singer-songwriter hybrid that doesn’t particularly sound like anyone else I can think of. Confused? You won’t be!
I had to take a deep breath the first time I heard opening track Mystery Waltz as it begins with Cath and her accordion nodding towards something akin to the Captain Pugwash tune; but mercifully Shipcote and the other Friends seamlessly slide in with the first of a series of magical love songs sung to a hypnotic melody that will make you sway along as you aimlessly mouth the words, while thinking that you know who the song is really about.
The jaunty Photograph follows; and yet again a simple thing like ‘looking at a photograph of his wedding day’ ends up taking us all down ‘memory lane’ thinking exactly the same thoughts about our own past; such is the power of clever songwriting.
Although a man of a ‘certain age’ Shipcote isn’t as cynical as the majority of people I know; generally seeing the best in life; as the punchy Sanctuary Street and the delightfully romantic Country Swing of Lucky Me prove; but he can also let his imagination go wild with the insightful and sensitive I’m Coming To Get You, which will also turn a few eyes misty as time goes by.
The whimsical I Get Around and title track, I’m Quite Happy With That are both autobiographical ditties that had me smiling from start to finish as our man describes his day to day life; with the latter being a description of his office including the posters on the wall , the swivel chair and his name sat next to a paperweight on his desk; and is all only an 8 minute ride away each day. I doubt Robbie Williams will ever cover this song; but I love it to bits!
Picking a Favourite Track on a Shipcote album is never easy, as each song always has its merits; and this one is no different with the slightly brittle and dark break up Hope It Stays That Way is unlike anything I’ve heard from him before and would be a contender for that reason alone; but the addition of luscious harmonies and a heartbreaking cello take it onto a whole other level.
Then there are two songs that are very close to my own heart, the first is a tongue in cheek tilt towards the myriad of Award Ceremonies every year, covering just about every (and some made up) categories in our own little musical world; leaving them with very little, if any meaning save for the Press Releases that litter my desk.
The other; and it’s the one I’m actually giving the prize to is What Can a City Do? Specifically about Newcastle which is on the verge of having more student accommodation than it has for actual rate payers and (more importantly) Social Housing; Shippy lists all of the new businesses that now litter the High Streets of our once Green and Pleasant land. And, in Shipcote & Friends style it’s all sung over a charming and lazy Countryfied melody.
Okay, I’m a friend first, a fan second and only thirdly an impartial reviewer; but if ever a song title summed up the contents of the music within the cover it’s, I’m Quite Happy With That and that’s is exactly what you will feel as the final song runs out into the groove.
Cool, Easy Listening Country Music With Added ZING!
As regular readers will know I have a soft spot for singer-songwriters from Northern Ireland and welcome their releases like long lost relatives; but I don’t think I’ve ever been sent anything from Ireland’s home grown Country Music arena; and bearing in mind Irish Country Music is incredibly popular across the water; it historically doesn’t ‘travel well’; I probably wouldn’t have given this album the time of day if it hadn’t come from from my mentor Alan Cackett; so to the top of the pile it went.
All my preconceptions were blown away as soon as I heard opening track, Jessi Colter’s Storms Never Last, which features some sublime pedal-steel and Twangtastic guitar and of course Ms Fearon’s dreamy voice…..and the song itself ain’t too shabby too!
As I’d expected everything here is in the Classic Country vein and the world is a better place because of it; with Kerry breathing new life into Cotton Jenny and Loretta’s Honky Tonk Girl; which is obviously the title track too (Doh!).
Even ‘Classic’ Country comes in many different shades; and Kerry Fearon shows her good taste by including rip-roaring versions of Gram’s Luxury Liner and Miss Maybelle Carter’s Jukebox Blues alongside Red River Valley and even a couple of winsome Ashley Monroe tunes too; I’m Good at Leaving and If The Devil Don’t Want Me (which I didn’t know before this glorious album closer).
We need to bounce back to the start for my choice of ‘Favourite Song’; the obvious choice the feisty and poignant That’s What I Like About You; which was originally a 1991 single for Trisha Yearwood and this version deserves to be heard on daytime radio across the whole wide world; even though the American Country stations will likely sneer at the warble in Kerry’s voice; rat-a-tat drumming, shimmering pedal-steel and some damn sweet Chet Atkins influenced guitar breaks too….. are you getting the picture?
For the second time in as many weeks I’ve found an album that I’ve used as something of a ‘pallet cleanser’ as it is so very ‘easy on the ear’ from start to finish, with Kerry’s voice being ‘universal’ in a good way; and the pin-sharp production making this locally released album something that will and should be a hit all around the world; or at the very least of interest to Country Music fans of all persuasions.
#Kerry Fearon also presents a weekly Country Music TV show, Kerry’s Country Gold and a daily Country Music radio show too!