Nine Mile Records
The Coolest Blues, Funk and Country Swamp Music You Can Imagine.
Sadly; such is the backlog at RMHQ that this album; from one of our favourite artistes has sat around unplayed and unloved for over a month now; but such is our love for Patrick Sweany that we knew we would get the best out of it when the time was right; and that proved to be last Sunday.
The sun was high in the sky and it was so hot my cold beer was soon warm beer; so I had to keep refilling my glass as I let this music seep into my soul.
Hallelujah! Opening track Old Time Ways was exactly as I’d hoped it would be; Sweany on top form howling from the heart as a red hot band makes every single note count; and not a single one is out of place.
This is already Swamp Music par excellence, mon ami.
Sweany’s cool groove continues through Up and Down and on third track Country Loving he slows things down to an evening stroll through the Everglades pace, as Charles Hodges takes on a Professor Longhair role at the piano while Sweany croons (if such a word can describe his grizzled tones) the sweetest of honest love songs.
In its own way ANCIENT NOISE is a ‘move on’ from what I remember of his last two albums; with a new found maturity to the construction of songs like Outcast Blues, Play Around (with its Roy Orbison undertones) and more especially Get Along which could easily have become an over excited stomp; but Sweany and bandmates show incredible restraint on a chest tightening Soul-Rocker.
Back in the olden days I don’t know if the songs Steady or album closer Victory Lap would have been described as Rock Ballads; as that term has gone out of fashion now but both are articulate, intimate and very easy on the ear while retaining Sweany’s trademark powerful honesty in every breath and stanza.
There’s also the surprising inclusion of a pseudo-political song that delves into the troubled past of the USA and more importantly The Southern States. At first I thought Cry of Amede was just a nod in the direction of Dr. John; but delve deeper and you will hear a history lesson that will send a shiver down your spine; as Amede Ardoin who was a Creole musician in the 1930’s and was cruelly beaten for receiving a handkerchief from a white woman as a gift. Sweany gets the unpleasant story across without ever sounding maudlin or even preachy; just giving us the facts in a sensitive and rather beautiful manner.
With so much to choose from; and so many songs that sound exciting, interesting and often just plain fabulous I’m going for the Country Funkylicious No Way No How as my favourite track; simply because it was the first one that I found myself murmuring the chorus too.
This is the third of eight Patrick Sweany albums we’ve reviewed here at RMHQ and each one has come along into our lives just when we needed some rough and ready, sweaty and cinematic Southern Blues with a splash of Rock n Roll flavoured bourbon; and he delivers all of those things with gentlemanly panache.
Released July 6th 2018
Part Rockabilly Queen and Soul Sister Extreme and More Than a Little Bit West End Soundtrack Too.
I suppose with hindsight I should have expected to hear what I first heard a couple of weeks ago just by the amazing cover to this Album from New Zealand’s Tami Neilson; but in 2018 who among us could expect a blistering ‘Show Tune’ like Stay Outta My Business? It’s part Rocking Blues, part Soul Sister Extreme and part West End on a hot Saturday night.
Then of course some time later the actual storyline knocked me sideways.
What a combination!
That ‘Show Tune’ meets Rockabilly feeling continues on the next couple of tunes, starting with the crazy Bananas which has had me doing a Carmen Miranda style dance in the kitchen twice (that I’m admitting to) then Tami becomes a sex-kitten in the manner of Eartha Kitt on Diamond Ring.
This is only the first three songs and I’m so hot, I find myself fanning my face with the album sleeve to cool down.
I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing; but Tami then moves across into a Country Siren on the Bobbie Gentryesque A Woman’s Pain, at #4; a Gothic tale of a woman done wrong and left to live with the consequences; and oddly enough is a true story about Tami’s own Grandmother.
The first time I played SASSAFRASS this left turn really confused me; but when you listen to the whole album it really is akin to a soundtrack to a Romeo and Juliet style Southern Love Story, with the songs all generally linking into each other even if they do cover a number of different styles.
There’s even a red hot Blues tribute to and in the style of the late lamented Sharon Jones; Miss Jones is destined to get even the most leaden of male feet onto the dancefloor; even mine; and Devil in a Dress will keep you there but clinging on tightly for a slow smooch.
With so much to choose from it’s been really, really difficult to select a genuine Favourite.
The sleazy and sultry Smoking Gun certainly has it’s merits; as does the lovely and gentle on the mind Manitoba Sunrise at Motel 6 (the homage to Glen Campbell) but I’m going for the rip-roaring Kitty Cat which is the type of rocking and rolling Rockabilly song that the album cover and title SASSAFRASS! put me in mind of even before I’d heard a note.
Don’t worry, there are love songs here too; with One Thought Of You being the sort of classy song that Elvis or Connie Francis would have recorded back in the day; and would still make you swoon if it came on the radio tomorrow. The album closer, a heartfelt Good Man, is in a similar vein but a lot more contemporary and a perfect way to close the ‘show.’
There’s a whole lot going on here; not least Tami Neilson’s amazing voice; boy oh boy can she sing a song! But her songwriting can’t be underestimated either; as each individual song has a strong tale to tell and deserves very close inspection; but overall this is just a damn fine record.
Released June 1st 2018
Steel Pony Blues
Oohee…..how exciting is this?
Dom Flemons, founding member of the legendary Carolina Chocolate Drops has a new album ; the first album of its kind in fact, Flemons new release ‘Black Cowboys’ (March 23rd release) takes the listener on an illuminating journey “from the trails to the rails” of the Old West. The 18-song set traverses a varied soundscape featuring string blues, old-time square dance music, and cowboy poetry. Flemons is joined by a celebrated group of backing musicians throughout the record, such as GRAMMY-winning bluesman Alvin “Youngblood” Hart, Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers), and decorated folklorist and Folkways’ director emeritus Dan Sheehy, who co-produced the album.
This song from the album is about Nat Love, aka Deadwood Dick. Born a slave, who travelled out to Arizona as a rancher and later worked on the railroad.
Leo ‘Bud’ Welch
LATE BLOSSOM BLUES (DVD)
City Hall Records
Part History of a Bluesman and Part Love Story.
My father had numerous ‘sayings’ and one of which was “Do you see all of those old people over there? Well they all have a story to tell.”
It’s an adage I’ve clung to all my life; and no truer sentiment describes Leo ‘Bud’ Welch from Bruce in the Mississippi backwoods who began his celebrated recording career at the ripe old age of 81.
My father’s adage sprung to mind during the opening 5 minutes when a hunched over Bud enters his local diner for breakfast and is surprised when the waitress gives him his regular breakfast before he ordered it. He then sits down and starts chatting to two whit men of the same generation as he eats.
This scene was recorded in 2017 and you suddenly realise that for most of their octogenarian lives this conversation wouldn’t or couldn’t have taken place.
That’s the Blues that this man has lived and sings about. Leo ‘Bud’ Welch has stories, boy does he have stories….. and you’d better get comfortable because this film is intoxicating and you won’t want to miss a second.
This charming film follows not just Bud, but his friend and manager Vencie Varnado who is an Army Veteran that first encountered many years previously at his parent Juke Joints and when he re-discovered him he takes it upon himself to let the world know how good his friend was.
The problem, as he explains is that he had no experience in the music industry, so had to Google ‘getting gigs’ and ‘record contracts’.
There’s hardly a moment where if you’re not being entertained you’re learning stuff and when you’re not doing that you are watching a love story develop between Bud and Vencie.
To the uninitiated Leo ‘Bud’ Welch is a new name on the Blues scene; but coupled to his advancing years that’s what makes this story so damn exciting and indeed, charming.
It’s heartbreaking at times watching Bud hobbling around and one scene when he’s signing an autograph brought a tear to my eye; and when he talks you don’t just listen……you are forced to read his words on the subtitles because his accent is thicker than the tobacco leaves he used to harvest in his youth; but you won’t mind in the slightest.
One of my favourite parts is when his family are sitting around telling stories about their father and out of nowhere one daughter remembers the time “BB…..BB…..BB King?” wanted to take Bud on tour, but the cantankerous old man asked how much the wages were and decided to stay at home with his family!
Who knows how musical history could have been changed if he had taken up BB’s offer?
There are so many joyful moments tucked away here…..seeing Bud dancing to his own song in a studio, listening to him telling a story, seeing him in church, the tender way Vencie dresses him before a performance ‘so he looks his best for all the pretty women’, but most of all watching him come to life when he’s on stage whether it’s a Juke Joint in the middle of nowhere or thousands at a festival.
A word of praise must go to Directors Wolfgang Pfoser-Almer and Stefan Wolner who get to the nitty-gritty of Bud’s day to day life and his time travelling with his manager and never seems intrusive or voyeuristic, which is a clever trick that works perfectly well.
Sadly Leo ‘Bud’ Welch died on December 19th 2017 but what a legacy he has left in the form of his two albums and this magnificent documentary which is not just a history of a Blues Musician, but the world he lived in.
Powerful stuff indeed.
# There are a number of super videos and deleted scenes too in the Bonus Features that mustn’t be missed.
Released April 20th 2018
Sublime Pedal-Steel Playing Links an Eclectic Concoction of Songs.
As regular readers will already know, we have very eclectic musical tastes here at RMHQ and, YES we listen to absolutely everything we review and only review what we like…….your eyes would water if you saw the box of un-reviewed albums that goes to Oxfam every Quarter.
Which brings me to this disc by SF Pedal-Steel player Joe Goldmark. First of all the album cover initially caught my attention, but when I flipped it over to look at the track list my eyes nearly popped out of my head…..several of the titles looked familiar, but as sure as ‘God makes little green apples’ weren’t Country Songs; and looking back at Joe in his Stetson and Nudie suit, they must be mustn’t they?
Well….no they ain’t, or at least not all of them are as Joe takes us on a musical merry-go-round with his wonderful pedal-steel playing at the heart of a bunch of songs as eclectic as anything we’ve heard here for years.
Opening track the instrumental Night Flight is a Goldmark original and sounds like the Shadows playing in a Nashville Nightclub on a stormy Winter’s night with Joe guesting behind Hank B the boys, and the result is quite spectacular.
WOAH! After that track I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be followed by the Rufus Thomas dance classic All Night Worker with Glenn Walker supplying a delightful Soulful delivery then Dallis Craft turning Roy Orbison’s A Love So Beautiful into slow burning Country-Soul ballad of epic proportions. Bizarrely a pedal-steel as lead instrument in both situations works perfectly well; who’d have thought it?
Back to basics, Joe Goldmark’s own instrumentals are worth the entry fee alone, with Ginger Ale and Tacky Tango sounding like they are just waiting for some enterprising TV Producer to pick them up as theme tunes; but it’s Joe’s selection of cover versions that makes this album stand out.
Perhaps finding Lefty Frizzell’s Look What Thoughts Will Do here isn’t a huge surprise; but hearing Dallis Craft doing her best Patsy Cline impression is; and the last time I heard The Wobble it was an early James Hunter album and was R&B at it’s rawest yet this version with Glenn Walters again on vocals sounds R&B; but that pedal-steel from Goldmark really steals the show, no matter how hard Gary Potterton tries on his electric guitar.
Then, there are the two songs that initially caught my attention…..Bob Marley’s Natty Dread becomes unrecognisable as a Hawaiian nightclub tango (or something!) but lovely none the less; and then there is one of my favourite ever songs, and it’s a brave man who takes on a Graham Parker song; especially Howlin’ Wind…..but somehow this version, with Ms Dallis Craft crooning her little heart out is easily my favourite track on an album chock full of precious gems.
I wish I had the vocabulary to really describe BLUE STEEL, as the sum total probably outweighs the individual tracks, with Joe Goldmark’s sublime pedal-steel playing being the golden thread that links everything together in a very clever manner indeed; making this a very special package indeed.
Released April 20th 2018
DIAL IT IN
Treated Released Records
A 21st Century Schizoid Progressive Blues Experiment.
Many moons ago I reviewed the Reverend’s Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues album and if memory serves me correctly….I bloody adored!
That memory is as good a place as any to start here, although opening track Opus Earth is a lot more left of centre than I remembered. Moody, atmospheric and almost instrumental save for the Reverend croaking poetically two minutes in as his slide guitar makes the hair on the back of your neck absolutely tingle.
I had actually heard the next song a few weeks ago and to say it whetted my appetite for a whole album would be a gross understatement.
Many of you will know Personal Jesus from the wheezy Johnny Cash version; but I have danced to the original Depeche Mode single many, many times back ‘in the day’ and who knew someone could turn both those versions inside out and make it into a sleazy Blues song that even I can still dance to? Probably only Reverend Freakchild and it ticks every box I have for a great radio hit…..if I only had a radio show.
While many musicians are involved with each track here; the Reverend is very much a One Man Band, seamlessly corralling a beautiful West Coast influenced love song Skyflower alongside a footstompin’ Psychedelic Delta Blues like Hippie Bluesman Blues and detuning Dylan’s It’s Alright Ma into Johnny Winter style Rag and weirdly, everything sits comfortably together.
The title track Dial It In is as fresh a Blues tune as you’ll hear this year with traces of Urban Hip-Hop in Hazel Miller’s backing vocals but Garrett Dutton’s harmonica is straight from a 1950’s Chicago Jive Joint and coupled to the Reverend’s singing and guitar playing you end up with 3 minutes of exhilarating music.
With 11 songs as disparate as these ones choosing a favourite is never going to be easy as each individual track could take the title on a different day; with the Uber-Cool Damaged Souls being perfect for a heart broken sunny Saturday night and the bottle-neck National Steel and Freakchild’s drawl on the reinterpretation of the classic Soul of a Man is well worthy of being on the top table but tonight I’m going for……the Honky-Tonking 15 Going On 50 which is as danceable as the story is deep, conjuring up images of steamy nights in bars on the wrong side of town where the beer is cold and the women red hot.
I love this album and it will certainly appeal to music fans who like their music a bit ‘different’ and slightly experimental and I emphasise ‘slightly’……if I want to hear Muddy, BB or Johnny Winter or their ilk I will go to their albums, not a looky-likey act pretending to be ‘modern’ but when I want something fresh, progressive, experimental yet still full of the Blues I will reach out for Reverend Freakchild and friends.
Released April 1st 2018
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite
NO MERCY IN THIS LAND
Contemporary Blues With its Roots in the Southern Plantations of the 1920’s as well as 1950’s Chicago.
At RMHQ we listen to a lot of music, occasionally liking the same things but more often than not loudly disagreeing as to what is deemed ‘good’…….and I even have my own personal quality control system; especially with Blues Records.
It normally consists of Mrs Magpie rolling her eyes and leaving the room or suggesting I put my headphones on; or as is the case with this package her looking at the CD Player then me and sighing, “What the Hell is this?”
Always a sign of quality in my mind.
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite are a Grammy Award winning duo that will never top the bill at Glastonbury, but more likely a club or hall with a capacity in the low hundreds; but everyone who is in that room is there on a musical pilgrimage and will hang on every single note; which probably isn’t true of Ed Sheeran or Toby Keith concerts is it?
For the uninitiated Musselwhite is a white boy, born in 1944 who learned his trade standing side by side with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Mike Bloomfield while Harper (born 1969) is something of a renaissance man, fighting and winning the battle of being ‘The Next Big Thing’ and releasing a wide variety of albums over the last few years as well as being a famous Producer too; and the two were first introduced by John Lee Hooker.
Then there is the music.
There’s a Rock Gospel tinge to opening track When I Go which takes Urban Blues down a very dark road on the outskirts of a rundown industrial town and brings it back to life with electric shock therapy.
Man oh man……did that song send shivers down my spine from the get go?
Both men have lived such dangerous lives it’s a surprise that either or both have come out the other side; and that comes across not just in the deadly honest lyrics but the way both men deliver their parts; be it singing, playing guitar or in Musselwhite’s case blowing that magic harmonica.
When these guys sing a love song don’t expect a ‘moon in June’ couplet; Love and Trust will break your heart into a thousand pieces and Found The One is a tale of pain as much as it is romance while Nothing at All may appear gentle on the outside, this acidly emotional ballad will and should make grown men crumble and cry as women look on unsympathetically.
Hidden in the middle is wonderfully fragile Country Blues, Trust You To Dig My Grave which finds Harper trading licks on an acoustic guitar (with bottle neck) with Musselwhite wheezing into his harmonica as if it was made from solid gold and feathers.
There’s no denying that this amazing duo make very modern Blues Music but with its roots very firmly in the Cotton Fields of Georgia and Louisiana in the 1920’s and spreading to the tenements of Chicago or New York in the 50’s and 60’s as the troubles and strife that effect poor people sadly ain’t changed very much in 2018 have they?
Yet Harper and Musselwhite manage to make their sad, sad songs incredibly beautiful though, with When Love Is Not Enough taking my breath away whereas the title track No Mercy In This Land is spell binding and made me righteously angry to the pits of my stomach!
Many reviewers will pick that last song as the stand out track here; and they won’t be wrong, but I’m going for the punchy The Bottle Wins Again as my ‘favourite track’ because when you read the lyrics then hear Harper wailing them out of your speakers while Charlie blows the reeds from his harp as the band rip it up behind them; you just know that these characters have lived every word in this scarily honest song…..which is why I love the Blues, baby.
This isn’t party music and it’s destined to be played when I am all alone and probably drunk and feeling very sorry for myself and it will fit that mood just perfectly.
Released 30th March 2018
Jamie Williams & The Roots Collective
Quintessential British R&B With a Country Heart.
My father used to have a saying that I now use; “God acts in mysterious ways” and that may sum up why I selected this album to listen to last week.
First of all the band name is a bit of a mouthful isn’t it and the sleeve isn’t exactly eye-catching but as soon as I heard that wailing harmonica and thumping bass on opening track Little Black Book I knew I was onto a winner.
For what should be a relatively simple Classic British R&B foot stomper there’s an awful lot going on behind Jamie Williams gut wrenching vocal performance; not least Dave Milligan’s searingly hot guitar runs.
I Don’t Want To Break My Baby’s Heart which follows isn’t quite so earthy; more Manfred Mann than Dr. Feelgood if you know what I mean; but a helluva corking love song though, but man.
Nothing here is ever anything less than interesting with a couple of cool acoustic tunes thrown in for good measure, with Godsend and Bastard County both being glorious toe tapping Country Blues tunes of the highest order.
But it’s the glorious Rhythmic Blues of the electric persuasion that I’ve fallen in love with all over again with that harp from Nick Garner sending shivers down my spine on the chilling Voodoo Man (which also features the band on ‘harmonies’) and on Lonesome Howl From The Heart I was transported back to those drunken nights in the Red House on Newcastle’s dangerous Quayside long before it became gentrified.
While they obviously love 60’s British R&B and probably 70’s Pub Rock the band show that they aren’t a Retro Showband with Reaching For The Stars and One Man Mission To Mars which both fit in perfectly; but go off in spectacular new directions all of their own.
But; the title of RMHQ Favourite Song goes to a “Most Blues Wailing” song worthy of The Yardbirds, Feelgoods and even the Stones when they really were Rolling……..Baddass and Lazy is one of those songs that sounds great on record but will surely be a showstopper when played loud and at 100mph on stage. Williams sings from the heart over an industrial strength rhythm section and an electric guitar and harmonica that both need a bucket of cold water at the end of this spectacular 2 and a half minutes.
This is the music that first instilled my love of ‘The Blues’…..the quintessential British version and Jamie Williams and the Roots Collective aka JWRoots are every bit as good as anything that I’ve heard in the last twenty years; primarily because they aren’t trying to sound like anyone but themselves which is a winning formula at RMHQ.
Released 16th March 2018
John Oates & The Good Road Band
Music From an Abandoned Luncheonette Jukebox In Big Pink.
Hmmmmmm; I’m always deeply suspicious when a Million Selling Megastar suddenly ‘finds’ a long lost love of Roots Music and gets to release a very ‘alright’ album in a blitz of publicity; much to the detriment of acts that tread the boards around the country every night of the week trying to make a living with very similar; but original material.
Now that bit’s out of the way; I hadn’t realised that this John Oates was actually THE John Oates of Hall & Oates fame, because the disc didn’t have a Press Release with it……you clever clogs Del Day!
So, it was with no preconceptions I slipped the disc into the car stereo on a cold and sunny January morning and let the music do its business.
I’m no real fan of Bluegrass but the gentle Anytime which opens the record was a very pleasant surprise indeed; with some sweet picking from the Good Road Band and a singer who sounds like he’s been around the block a time or two (if only I had known!).
This is followed by an Oates original, the title track Arkansas with it’s edgy mandolin as lead instrument. Hmm, hmm, hmm….. this is as cool a slice of Southern Roots as I’ve heard in quite a few years. Gorgeous harmonies and a band that must be steeped in the traditions of The Band, coupled to that ‘road-worn’ voice again; and the scene was set for a lovely day out in the Northern hills.
John Oates claims ‘this is the album that he has always wanted to make’ and that may be true; especially the way he has arranged hoary old Folk songs like My Creole Belle, Stack O Lee and Lord Send Me; breathing new life into each and possibly introducing them to a whole new generation or at least group of music lovers.
I actually had four new albums in the car that day; and this one stayed in the stereo as it just seemed the perfect soundtrack to my car journey; especially the ornery Dig Back Deep and the other John Hurt classic Spike Driver Blues; which features some really mean finger-picking geetar.
I’ve not had much time to play my old Blues albums lately so RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’ status falls on Blind Blake’s That’ll Never Happen No More, which is a song I’ve loved for many a year but, in fairness the original isn’t really ‘easy on the ear’ is it? So John Oates Ragtime version is the overall winner on an album that has surprised and delighted me in equal measures over the last week.
Perhaps this album will finally make me reassess my feeling towards Big Time Charlie’s muscling in our little world; but then again it will get Roots Music a little byline in our national newspapers and magazines, won’t it?
Released February 2nd 2018
A Scrumptious Blues and Soul Gumbo With a Side Order of Country Too.
Do you ever hear an artist or band’s name and can’t remember why you know it; but you just know you like their work? Well; it happens ever so often at RMHQ (possibly because I’m getting old!) and such is the case with Jeffrey Gaines. I don’t appear to own a single track of his and two phone calls later I’m 99% sure I’ve never seen him play live either so this is all new to me (or is it?).
Anyway; the lovely artwork on the CD cover instantly caught my attention; and as I’ve said before would have made me pick it out of the rack in a Record Shop; which is usually a good sign; and in this case Track #1 the mellow magic of Feel Alright bares my ‘gut feelings’ out again. Gaines has a pleasing crossover vocal manner, blending Sweet, Sweet Soul with a Bluesy rasp around the edges; and how cool is his guitar playing and the band behind him?
This is immediately followed by the rakishly romantic love song Firefly Hollow, which conjures up images of young love on a Saturday night somewhere warm and sultry in a small town somewhere in the Southern states of the USA.
With that mood in mind; let’s jump forward a couple of tracks to the uptempo and feisty Promise of Passion…..Oooohhheeee…..imagine what might have happened if Bruce had recorded a follow up to The River in a stifling Memphis studio and this could have been the lead track. Seriously; it is THAT GOOD!
Gaines takes us on a real switchback of emotions with gorgeous ballads like Bjorn Toulouse and the heart shredding No Longer which is perfect for late night radio play.
But the guy can Rock too; albeit in a tightly wrapped and usually intense manner (this is the Blues after all). Sparks must have come off his guitar during the recording of Frowned Upon and later on Thick and Thin that River period Bruce springs to mind again, as the song has a cool melody and a hook to die for; plus even more sparky and sparkling electric guitar interplay.
Selecting a ‘favourite track’ isn’t always easy; especially in these days when bands no longer need a single for radio play; but Children’s Games which closes the album is far too good a song to be left hidden on a record. A moody, slow and deeply personal love song all rolled into one; what’s not to like?
Oh for the days when I had my radio show; as this album would easily be the backbone to several shows in the next couple of months.
Only three plays in and I’m already in love with Jeffrey Gaines soulful strut; and can’t imagine why it’s taken him 15 years since his last release to come up with this delicious gumbo of Blues and Soul with a side order of Country too.
Released January 26th 2018