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.
Released Sunday 07 October 2018
HONKY TONK GIRL
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!
Released August 23rd 2018
Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis
WILD! WILD! WILD!
Happy Days and Sad Nights Country Infused Rock and Roll.
Music effects us in many ways; making us think, dance and quite often cry…….but how often does it make us smile and even laugh?
Well this glorious Rock and Roll album from one of our favourite Roots Rock heroes Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis (sister of The Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis) ticks every one of those boxes in bold red ink…..and more!
As the history books show us Rock and Roll comes in many formats and this odd couple manage to utilise most of them here; starting with the rip-roaring opening track ‘Round Too Long which starts with and goes onto feature 100 mph piano followed by Linda Gail at her sassy, hip swinging best on song that only needs the Fonz swinging Mrs. Cunningham around the dancefloor Al’s Diner to complete its authenticity.
The mood drops down to a a stroll next when Robbie delivers the saddest ballad of the last thirty years; with I Just Lived a Country Song; which features a marvelous couplet from the star of the song; “For a while there I was hot/I can’t recall the early 90’s/the last ten I’d rather not.”
Robbie Fulks at his pithy best? I certainly think so.
This album is so good that song is not even the best song here; or even in the Top 3.
The couple take turns on lead and their harmonies make you wonder why they’ve never partnered up before……but better late than never.
It’s not clear from my review copy, but I presume Robbie had a hand in writing everything here, as the lyrics are always whip smart , articulate and even reverential when they could be tongue in cheek in lesser hands; allowing Linda Gail to delve deep into her Patsy Cline Alter-ego on Who Cares, Til Death and the rip-snorting Boogie Woogie Country Gal without ever sounding like its an act or worse still, patronising.
Robbie himself sounds like he’s having the time of his life on their duets Your Red Wagon and Wild! Wild! Wild! which both sound like even the Rockabilly hipsters will love them to death as much as casual Rock & Rollers like you and I.
Where to go for a Favourite Track? To paraphrase Forest Gump “This album is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna find.” It could easily have been the ‘alternate title track’ Memphis Never Falls From Style, then there’s the theatrical ode to first hearing Rock & Roll in the 50’s; It Came From The South and the Hillbilly delights of Jericho Road, but I’m going for the pedal-steel infused swoon-a-thon duet That’s Why They Call It Temptation, which conjures up black and white images of Dolly & Porter, Tammy & George and more recently those My Darling Clementine albums which I thought couldn’t be topped; but Robbie and Linda Gail have, with ease and indeed grace.
In another dimension the finale Hardluck, Louisiana could and should have won that title as Linda Gail chokes back her tears on a brittle and beautiful ballad that will bring a tear to a glass eye.
So, what you get here is two great singers attached to 13 wonderfully respectful songs that harnesses the Country Roots of what became Rock and Roll and all wrapped in love and style What’s not to like?
Released August 10th 2018
Country Legend Shows the Hip Young Gunslingers How To Write and Sing Americana.
It’s odd to think that to me Jim Lauderdale was actually a ‘discovery’ at SummerTyne 2017!
This is his 30th full length album in a career that spans……well, I will be diplomatic and just say ‘a long time’; but he really did only hit my radar last year with two great concerts at Sage Gateshead and that wonderful London Southern album.
With so many great songs already under his belt it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Lauderdale just ‘phoned it in’ these days; but hey……this guy is a Professional and as the title song TIME FLIES, which opens the record proves, he can still not just write a cool contemporary song but deliver it in his own distinctive manner better than most of those hip young gunslingers that the music press slavishly adore these days. Time Flies is another timeless slice of Country/Americana music that could have easily been released in the laid back Country Rock days of the 70’s or 80’s; but his whip smart lyrics sound so very apt today to my ageing ears.
Jim can still turn his hand to what used to be C&W but we now know as Countrypolitan, most noticeably with the slow drawl of When I Held The Cards, the two-stepping Wild On Me Fast and of course the magnificent When The Cars Go By Fast, which is Country as Country gets these days, with a raggedy fiddle, some razor sharp pedal steel and a gloriously ghostly backing vocal from Lillie Mae Rische.
There are guests aplenty in the background (Chris Scruggs, Kenny Vaughan and Jay Weaver to name but three) but TIME FLIES is all about Jim Lauderdale as a songwriter AND Singer, with my priority certainly being the latter.
I’ve grown to love Jim’s voice in the last year; as it’s so distinctive and expressive as he gives relatively simple songs like Violet and It Blows My Mind a personality and gravitas I don’t think anyone else could achieve.
In the glorious tradition of Country music Jim isn’t afraid to have a bit of fun too, with the inclusion of the delightfully twee Slow as Molasses and the toe-tapping shuffle of While You’re Hoping; which will surely both go on to become staples of his concerts.
Then of course there has to be a Favourite Song, doesn’t there? For a few days I was definitely going to choose the finale, a gorgeous Country ballad that defies time and maybe even genre….. If The World Is Still Here Tomorrow; but the aspiring hipster in me is going for the Honky-Tonky, rolling and rocking Wearing Out Your Cool which may or may not be written about me! Probably not methinks; but I’m pretty sure Lauderdale has someone specific in mind; even if it’s not your favourite Rocking Magpie!
Unlike most of his contemporaries in Nashville Town these days, Lauderdale doesn’t live in the past bemoaning the passing of time since their glory days writing songs for Country Radio. Time moves on with indecent haste and Jim Lauderdale has adapted to the new Countrypolitain and Americana movements better than anyone else of his generation that I can think of.
Released August 3rd 2018
AIN’T IT SOMETHING, HANK WILLIAMS
Classic Country For Today, Tomorrow; But Certainly Not Yesterday.
Strangely enough two of my favourite albums are both collections of Hank Williams song (Bap Kennedy’s HILLBILLY SHAKESPEARE and HANKY PANKY by Matt Johnson’s The The) so it was with more than a tingle of excitement I agreed to listen to this album by Denver based Miss Leslie Tom.
With only four of the ten songs here written by the great man; this is more of a love letter from the heart, to Hank than anything else.
Very much in the style of Williams, Leslie’s very own Born Too Late opens proceedings and your toes will tap from the get go, as Leslie pines the fact that she was “born too late and he was born too soon” for the pair to have ever met; but if they had “she could see us in a great big Cadillac/Ridin’ high through life/never looking back”. In the nicest possible way it’s a cute song; yet like a few others here quite edgy in it’s own special way, with some very eloquent and clever lyrics.
This is followed by Leslie rockin’ the heck outta Hey Good Lookin’; not a song that will trouble the Grammy committee but one that made me smile like a nanny goat; and boy can Mr Lloyd Green pick that pedal-steel!
In fairness that’s the beauty of this album; every song is sung with love and joy and are the type of songs that pay homage in the very best way; regardless of commercial success.
If you like quality Country AND Western music you will just love Honky Tonkin’ and the delightful duet with Dean Miller, Are You Ready For Some Hanky Panky, both of which must be highlights of any live shows.
Then of course there is one of my favourite songs of all time I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, a tearjerker of the highest order and a dangerous song to cover as there are some stinkers out there; but Leslie captures the same essence that Hank had when he wrote it; and coupled to some shimmering guitar and pedal-steel this version will send shivers down your spine.
Choosing a favourite song certainly hasn’t been easy; with the brittle Audrey’s Song (Still Love You) being an early contender and Leslie breaths fresh breath into Angel of Death (sounding uncannily like Nanci Griffith btw) but I’m going for the Leslie Tom Composition Mr. Williams, which if taken out of context here is a stunning song on its own merits; but becomes the cornerstone for an album that could easily be the soundtrack to a Stage Show (now there’s an idea!) and will give pleasure to absolutely everyone who hears it.
After a couple of beers my favourite argument with friends whose musical tastes are deeply embedded in the past; is that they should ‘move with the times’ and listen to modern music too. AIN’T IT SOMETHING, HANK WILLIAMS has a foot in both camps; as Leslie Tom certainly loves the ‘old music’ of Hank Williams and sings her odes to him in the Classic style; but this is very much an album for today…….and tomorrow; and certainly not yesterday.
Released June June 16th 2018.
Whitney Rose Band
Jumpin’ Hot Club
Monday 7th May 2018
For a variety of reasons I fell out of love with ‘live music’ last year; partly because of the odd hours my day job leave me constantly tired and also I’d sort of ‘seen everyone’ with no one exciting me the way they used to do.
Then a couple of weeks ago I went to see Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger who played an exciting and intimate concert in Durham, which reignited the flame in readiness for taking Mrs Magpie to see one of our favourite acts from the last few years; Whitney Rose tonight.
The evening started in the newly designed Cluny II with friend of the Rocking Magpie, the recently repatriated Mrs Gem Andrews who has been domiciled in Germany for a couple of years, with her friend Sue McLaren supplying harmonies.
Hearing Gem’s warm ‘burr’ on opening song Letter from the newest album North after so long was a delight in itself; but the stripped back interpretation gave it an almost earthy resonance, which set the tone for the short and (bitter) sweet set.
While introducing the next song, Sing Your Song which is about domestic violence Gem unceremoniously hitched her jeans up and told us they were elasticated maternity ones……because she was pregnant!
I wasn’t expecting that …….but felt quite paternal at the news, as I’ve known the young singer-songwriter for quite a few years now.
The 30 minutes flew by in the twinkle of an eye, with the two Julia Darling poem/songs from North both sounding even lovelier in this setting but the actual highlight was the coal mining song Lungs; which came as no surprise as it’s the finest song Gem has ever written, never mind sung.
Then following a short break the small hall filled to just short of capacity; which was quite an achievement on a red hot Bank Holiday Monday to welcome Whitney’s band who regaled us with a cool instrumental Ode to BJ, before the Princess of Modern Country Music made her eye-popping appearance! The big Cowboy hat and boots were no surprise, but the leather Daisy Dukes and the Gold ‘Elvis’ Cape which covered very little was a huge surprise!
Not that her clothing was ever going to distract from the music…..God Forbid.
With two albums and an ace EP at her disposal Whitney chose the sassy Country Classic Harper Valley PTA to open the show; and Live Music hardly gets better than that three minutes.
This was immediately followed by one of my favourite songs of hers, My Boots then the sweet and sultry Three Minute Love Affair which had everyone around me tapping out the beat on their thighs.
With time being of the essence on a School Night; there was very little time for chat or indeed intros; but we were here for the music anyway……and music of the highest order we got, from a singer and band who must surely be on the cusp of the Major Leagues sometime soon?
Pretty much all of Rule 62 and the EP South Texas Suite got a run out tonight with Analog, You’re a Mess and You Don’t Scare Me getting noisy applause as they faded to a close; but it was evident from the cheers that greeted The Devil Borrowed my Boots that this was a knowledgable group of fans who have been with her for the long haul.
Baring in mind Whitney and band had just arrived after a twelve hour journey from Kilkenny in Southern Ireland where they had played two gigs the previous day; their energy level was sky high throughout the 90 minute set that couldn’t have been more Country if John Wayne and Johnny Cash had walked in.
My own personal highlight of a red hot set? Trucker’s Funeral of course. If any one song can define this songwriter’s skill it has to be this one; taking a spectacularly odd subject and making it a smile inducing weepy of the highest order; what’s not to like y’all.
But Mrs. Magpie has just reminded me that there were another two spectacular cover versions worthy of mention; Tom T Hall’s How I Got From Memphis and the song that received a gasp, Suspicious Minds……and the applause nearly shook the walls when it ended.
I’m not normally a fan of encores; but tonight it was fully deserved with the band regaling us with another intricate instrumental, Sleepwalk before Whitney brought the show to a close with an exquisite version of Two More Bottles, before spending nearly half an hour signing CD’s and getting her picture taken with adoring fans.
Normal service has now resumed and my faith in Live Music is certainly restored after a short hiatus.
Authentic and Mighty Impressive Down Home Country For the Discerning Listener.
I appear to have been out of the loop regarding the reigning Queen of Oklahoma, Ms. Carter Sampson; but that could be because I don’t visit the Rootsy Festivals across the UK and Ireland where she’s been a frequent visitor over the last few years; and the loss is mine.
Before we even listen to a note on the record; that cover really is impressive isn’t it? Great eye-catching artwork will always catch favour around these here parts; and I’d be happy to have a copy of the album poster on the office wall……just saying, like though but.
But, of course you will be buying this album for the music, won’t you?
Well even as you listen to the title track Lucky which opens proceedings you will feel your money was well spent, as it’s a slightly tongue in cheek, but exceptionally well written song from the heart (of Oklahoma) that sets the tone for what is to follow. So settle yourself down for a fun, interesting and toe-tapping hour or so of Modern Country Music that owes a little bit to Kitty, Patsy and IMHO the delectable Laura Cantrell.
Track #2 Anything Else To Do is the type of laid back song that seems perfect for listening to as the sun goes down; but listen closely and you will slowly have your heartbroken, just like the narrator and I just can’t stop thinking about the chorus “love me like you ain’t got anything else to do.” Plus the guitar and piano in the background sound like they were recorded in the coolest Honky Tonk in the US of A.
One of the many things I like about this album is the feeling of space, Carter leaves for the listener to think about her exquisite words; with Tulsa and Hello Darlin’ probably being the best examples; but there are plenty more.
It’s funny trying to describe Carter Sampson’s ‘style’ as it’s most certainly Country but not like anything that’s coming out of Nashville, Austin or even London these days; it has one foot in the past but the other one hovers over Ameripolitan and even Alt. Country without the ‘edge’ that those worlds expect; even though the Guy Clark inspired Ten Penny Nail and her own sassy and saucy Wild Ride could easily fit in to either category.
But, thankfully Carter Samson rides her own stallion and will appeal to discerning fans of all Country persuasions.
With that in mind, our Favourite Track is actually a Country song from the Western Frontier; Rattlesnake Kate. An atmospheric, cinematic and almost powder keg tale of a widow woman left to bring up her son all alone on a farm; ‘killing and skinning rattlesnakes’ to make ‘a matching dress and shoes’ and my very own favourite couplet “I raised goats to cover up the smell/of the air coming off that moonshine still.” Just like her other songs; you just have to sit back and easily conjure up the images the songs suggest.
Then the album closes with the biggest smile of all; Carter’s rendition of Shel Silverstein’s Queen of the Silver Dollar which just could be her very own, and well deserved new signature tune.
Released May 18th 2018
SONGS FROM BEHIND BARS
Gypsy Chicken Box Records
21st Century Bar Room Ballads That Will Make You Smile, Cry and Think.
Not too many years ago I was a huge fan of the Beautiful South and met guitarist Dave Rotheray a couple of times before and after gigs as even though the band became Megastars they never forgot their original fans and were prone to take a tincture with them in local public houses.
During that band’s occasional hiatuses Dave took a step back into his more Folky roots and formed an occasional duo called Homespun with Sam Brown and later Helen McRobbie, which while I tried but never got my head around…….wrong band and wrong time I guess?
Then after the demise of the South Dave released a soloish album The Life of Birds, which certainly had its merits, but alongside 2013’s Answer Ballads lies gathering dust on the shelves of the RMHQ office.
With no chance of a Beautiful South reunion as Paul Heaton has reinvented himself as a Popstar and playing to tens of thousands in the grounds of stately homes, Dave picked up his ball and headed home to Hull and opened a bar.
So, with that back story and my own personal allegiance nothing prepared me for the Xmas single from Dave’s latest project Prosecco Socialist.
The droll A Dog’s For Life (Not Just for Christmas) featuring the velvet tones of Eleanor McEvoy and introducing a fresh faced Mike Greaves to the world, became an actual Hit Record and was the RMHQ Top review for the whole of December and well into January…..you can only imagine my excitement when I received his new album.
Opening song The Man Who Faked His Own Life finds Mike Greaves recreating the sad and lonely persona of the Xmas single as Eleanor sexily purrs harmonies in the background, as he describes the sad life of a lonely barfly who appears to have a ‘life’ but is in the bar all night, every night never seeming to go home or work.
Like everything else here the basis for the song comes from stories Dave has heard across that very same bar over the last couple of years; and with life being more fascinating than Art, Rotheray has certainly got his muse back in all it’s glory.
While the nub of each song may or may not be deemed ‘bittersweet’ and/or ‘sad’ listen closely to the duets Flowers in the Stream and The Night May Still Be Young and you will hear the words of an amazing observational songwriter brought to life by two singers who inhabit each song like actors.
Just like his songs with the Beautiful South what we have here is quintessentially English Pop Music at its best, but with a Folk and more often than not a Country and Western twist to the melody and refrains; which is obvious with Tijuana Nights but takes you surprise on Silver Pennies and the disorienting Queen of the Afternoon, where Eleanor’s warm Irish tones mask a desperate woman who could live in any town anywhere in the industrial world. They may not have a pedal-steel or banjo but Country don’t get any more Countrier than these two songs.
Obviously I listen to a hell of a lot of singer-songwriters but I can’t think of another one quite like David Rotheray. The way he constructs songs like That’s Just For Tourists and When You’re Lonesome Too is mind bending as he tells an intricate story in an almost left-field poetic manner but still leaves the listener getting the gist and singing along with ease. Quite an achievement.
Which brings me to the RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’ accolade. Hmmmm, ‘City of Culture’ is a subject very close to my own heart, as I used to be a frequent visitor to Dave’s home town of Hull which is the current UK City of Culture and I actually live in the shadow of sunderland which has just spent a vast fortune it can ill afford to win said title; and if anyone knows either city; ‘Culture’ is not in the Top 10 things you would associate with either; hence Mike Greaves describing a City full of “Bus stops where the buses don’t stop/a Pound Shop with a Sale on,” “we qualify for boozing, gambling and failing,” and more importantly “we’ve got milkless mothers and a whole lot of fatherless men/and the 24 hour garage is closed.”
Sadly, but more pertinently, Rotheray’s keenly observed lyrics describe our broken but once prosperous British Industrial towns in a way only someone who proudly lives in the middle can achieve and describe so eloquently.
The older I get it appears the more socially politicised I’m becoming; and this album sums up what I personally feel about the state of my own nation……never mind all those BMW’s, Merc’s and Audi’s I see parked outside half million pound houses; this is the real Britain I see every day and Dave, Eleanor and Mike should all be proud of what they have created here.
Released April 13th 2018