Various Artists Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots (BSHQ 25th Anniversary Compilation) Bloodshot Records
Here’s to Another 25 Years of Insurgent Country and Defiant Roots! Ching-Ching Chaps and Chapesses!
I’m an unadulterated fan of Bloodshot Records and starting with the LP ‘Straight Outta Boone County’ which I bought in a Public Library Sale for 50p, their compilations have been a constant source of discovering great new acts over the years ! Staggeringly, this offering is celebrating 25 years of Bloodshot Records and their ‘Insurgent Country Music’ roster, both old and new. The ‘new’ comes right at ya, without any warning ……… when Wyatt Earp and The Free For Alls prove Honky-Tonk music can be as contemporary as any other category, while still retaining the magic that filled the airwaves back in the 50’s and 60’s with the gloriously feisty The Last Honky Tonk in Chicago. Bloodshot have always had very obtuse and diverse musical tastes (much like us here) and their compilations always reflect that; daring to give us Folk and Lo-fi from acts like Half Gringa with their delicately constructed Wearing White, Joybird’s Sweetness and Bethany Thomas & Tawny Newsome whose Dinosaur is a left of centre Lo-Fi minor masterpiece that only Bloodshot would have the nerve to release. Then they juxtapose these with Straight Up Country in every format known to the world; from The Hoyle Brother’s celebration of Twang on A Little Bit of Buck; and in another universe The Western Elston’s Everly Brothers sounding Toast That Lie would be played 24 hours a day on Country Hits Radio, and Brendan Kelly & the Wandering Birds manage to scare the neighbours with their grizzly Alt. nay …… ‘Insurgent’ Country ballad Lay Me Down. This being Bloodshot there is also a host of new songs from old acts associated with this great label; Jon Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild go as left of centre as Country Music gets with the rollicking I Am a Big Town, and when I first heard Brett Sparks from The Handsome Family turning Leonard’s Tower of Song into a Western Swing Trip-Hop Gothic missive my heard spun 360 degrees; but do you know what? I’ve come back several times and it just gets cooler and cooler each time. Two acts I saw on the back cover really excited me as I hadn’t heard anything from either in yonks; with Sway, Freakwater still have the ability to make two voices and a banjo hit you right between the eyes like virtually no other act in existence; the other is Kelly Hogan (who is the only woman in the world I would leave Mrs Magpie for) does what she does best; using her beautiful voice in a way we normally associate with Patsy Cline to not just break your heart; but mend it too with the shimmering Gotta Have My Baby Back. #swoon With so many delights to choose from, it’s like being a kid on Christmas morning being asked “What is your favourite?” Do I pick the Honky-Tonking delights of Tammi Savoy & the Chris Casello Combo and If It’s News To You? or perhaps the mournful Alt. of Big Sadie? But then again Robbie Fulks’ Lonely Ain’t Hardly Alive is rather amazing too. Okay …… I’ve picked one; but this more than likely will change tomorrow ……… ta da! The RMHQ Favourite Song on this outstanding compilation is ……… the best grungy Cowboy Movie theme tune never to make it onto the big screen ……. Los Galos and Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! RMHQ says play this song loud and be proud to support Insurgent glories! Bloodshot Records have gone and done it again; capturing the glory of everything I and I hope you love about Insurgent Country and Defiant Roots music in 22 fabulous songs; and long may they continue.
Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra Artisan Tap Newcastle-under-Lyme Thursday 10th October 2019
Sometimes, the thing that makes a great gig is placing the right band in the right venue – and thanks to the good taste of ‘Biddulph Up In Arms’ promoter Craig Pickering, this was a perfect example of how to do it right. The Artisan Tap – a converted storeroom and shop – is now a craft beer bar with a curry house right next door, that puts on regular live music. It’s only small – capacity of 80 – but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character and atmosphere, no small thanks to proprietor Wayne Lucas, who also happens to be an experienced soundman and musicologist par excellence. A healthy part of the crowd were in early to enjoy the support from Joe Strouzer – playing New Orleans blues on a resonator with some beautifully grungy harmonica too and dry observational humour. He deservedly went down well.
Although they claimed that it was their first visit to Stoke-on-Trent, the Teapad Orchestra had played just ten miles away in Biddulph in 2016. Tonight was a much more exuberant and feisty performance featuring songs from the new EP “Eta Carinae” as well as old favourites like ‘Une Bouteille De Beaujolais’ “Rich man now”, “Cats and Chickens” and the opener “Still go Honky Tonkin’”. This line-up of the band is minus Tim Bloomer who played with the Teapad Orchestra over the summer and instead of adding another lead guitar recruit, the role has largely been taken by Rob himself, giving the band, (if anything) a more rhythmic sound. Even mentioning that he’d heard that Stoke-on-Trent is the Brexit capital of the UK – followed by huge booing and then the comment – “Obviously not in here” to cheers – Rob and the band completely won over an audience of fans familiar with them and those less so too.
A boisterous encore of “She don’t like the fish” finished the night and left the room bubbling. Rob himself thanked the audience on not staying in and viewing “Bake Off or whatever you’re supposed to be watching at the moment”. Thankfully, this was one of those nights where several people living in the murky border between Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme discovered that there is indeed a great deal of wonderful stuff out there – and tonight its name was Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra.
Review courtesy photographer extraordinaire, Mr Nick Barber
Jason James SEEMS LIKE TEARS AGO Melodyville Records
Traditional Country Just Got Itself a New ‘Real Deal’ Star.
Whenever someone asks me who the best ‘new’ throwback traditional Country acts around are, I normally start with “well there’s this guy called Jason James…”. The word ‘throwback’ might conjure up images of hipsters doing cowboy cosplay in Nashville, but that is most definitely not what Jason James is about.
No, Jason James is the ‘real thing’. His previous label, New West, responded to his storming, self-titled debut with a request that he sound less traditional on the follow-up. But the Texas City native is not interested in compromise and has set about making one of the most Classic-sounding Country albums you will hear all year. With a crack band, including several Austin die-hards plus Cory Braun from Reckless Kelly on fiddle – along with the tasteful production of John Evans – you could say this album sounds incredibly polished, only more like 1959 than 2019. How do I know Jason James is so authentic? Because he means it. He has a fantastic voice and uses it to inject meaning into every word in these three-minute Honky Tonk gems. It has been noted that Jason sounds like George Jones a lot of the time. Well, so did Johnny Paycheck and Randy Travis and it did them no harm, did it?. Country music is filled with artists who have paid tribute to others whilst also producing stellar original music. Jason is just another in that great lineage. Just like his first album, Seems Like Tears Ago is filled with songs that you initially think you must’ve heard before. Tracks like ‘Achin’ Takin’ Place’, the Hank Williamsesque dance tune ‘We’re Gonna Honky Tonk Tonight’ and the title track Seems Like Tears Ago, are all timeless songs that could’ve been written anywhere in the ‘50s and ‘60s heyday that this album harks back to. Plus, ‘Move a Little Closer’ gives the album some of the attitude present on his previous release, while ‘Cry on the Bayou’ is a Cajun floor-filler that surely would’ve been a huge hit in that golden era. My (current) favourite track is probably ‘Foolish Heart’: If you’re going to write a Honky Tonk song with a fairly regulation title it’d better be as good as this is. It seems to me that Seems Like Tears Ago is an absolute cracker of a traditional country album; and if you are here for the style, you’ll end up staying for the substance.
Words courtesy our friend and ‘National Treasure’ Mr. Ags Connolly (who has his own album coming out real soon too)
Songs From The Saddest Honky Tonk Bar In All of Sweden.
It never fails to amaze me how International RMHQ is, with readers in over 150 seperate countries (at the last count) and also the music we cover, with Americana/Country albums arriving from 17 different countries in the last 5 years; and each having its own distinctive merits. Which brings me to the latest release from Sweden’s Trailerpark Idlers who where first formed in 2006 and have now had several incarnations in the intervening years and now settling on founders guitarist Morgan Hellman alongside ‘Doghouse’ bass player JK Anderson and the gorgeous vocal talent of relative newcomer Miss LisaLee. When I first Miss LisaLee almost cry the album’s opening lines “I haven’t seen him for 14 hours 20 minutes and 16 days, Yet I still talk to him when the hour is late.” I knew this was music I was going to fall in love with…… and I have. This is Country Music of the saddest of sad orders that will not just tug at your heartstrings but make you look at the love of your life with new found admiration; if not you will play this song and probably the whole album on repeat at 3am, or until the bottle runs dry! How to describe Trailerpark Idlers? Imagine Kitty Wells fronting the Waco Brothers in a Tucson Honky Tonk on a sad and lonely February Tuesday night. There is enough Twang in Stay Down and Ocean Blue Eyes to satisfy even the hardiest Chet Atkins fan; but this album is all about the songs and the way Miss LisaLee and JK Anderson sing them, rather than the sublime playing behind them. JK gets to pour his heart out on The Green Green Grass Again and the melancholia on steroids I’m a Different Man Today; both of which find his deep baritone swathed in enough claustrophobic harmonies to kill a bull elephant; and that’s meant as a compliment! But there’s also Honky-Tonk Deluxe with Drag My Bones to The Bar harking back to the heady days of Porter and Dolly; and on What The Good Book Says we get an almost Pentecostal Hymn sung with gusto as a Semi-Acoustic sizzles alongside a pneumatic bass groove. Come on; what’s not to like? There are a couple of real doozys here too, with I Heard Maria’s Leaving Town finding JK resurrecting the spirit of Old Possum on a bittersweet love song masquerading as a good ole drinking song. I don’t know why, but as Gretchen Peters so quaintly puts it “Sad Songs Make Me Happy”, and they don’t come much sadder that on Blue, Bluer Me Miss LisaLee when takes us deep into the pits of her broken and bruised heart. While not exactly ‘God Fearing’ ……. In Lack of Faith gives us something to think about, and on a more grand scale Sick ‘n Tired Blues, which closes the album sounds like everyone within a 5 mile radius are in the choir and can sing harmony like Angels, although the kazoo is a bit disconcerting. Then there is the RMHQ Favourite Song, Dragnet For Jesus, which is as Country as Country gets but sounds unlike any other song I think I’ve ever heard in my life. Not for the first, nor I hope the last time this year I’ve discovered another new and distinctly exciting (in their own way) band that makes me want to shout about them from the rooftops; but I will make do with this review.
Ags Connolly WRONG AGAIN (You Lose a Life) Self-Released
Some say he is a ‘National Treasure’ others call him ‘The Oxford Cowboy’ but we know Ags Connolly as the ‘Jolliest Man in British Country Music’* and here he is with the first song from his new album, of the same name WRONG AGAIN, due for release on November 1st ……….. and we couldn’t be more excited. Come on Country Lovers; what’s not to like about a song so sad the vinyl actually weeps in time to the pedal-steel guitar? Then of course there is Ags’ wonderful mournful voice which certainly wasn’t made for Disco music …… it is Pure Country through and through.
Here’s what he and his label have to say –
“Wrong Again is Ags Connolly’s third studio album, following on from his highly-acclaimed offerings How About Now (2014) and Nothin’ Unexpected (2017). The traditional country singer-songwriter from Oxfordshire took the reins on this latest effort, producing the album with a team of London-based musicians in the peaceful and intimate surroundings of Woodworm Studios in his home county. Ags also enlisted the expert help of accordionist Michael Guerra (The Mavericks) and fiddle player Eamon McLoughlin (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell), both of whom had graced his previous album.
Alongside Ags’ trademark honky tonk shuffles, drinking songs and barroom ballads, Wrong Again delves once more into Tex-Mex/south-of-the-border flavours while entering some new territory with lively western swing.”
*Love him as we do; Ags will admit, he isn’t really the ‘Jolliest Man in Country Music.’
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
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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?