An Exciting Voyage Of Country, Folk and Americana Discovery.
As regular readers know; much like my teenage years with Motown and Stax, then later with Stiff Records these days I’m always pre-disposed to anything released on the Bloodshot label. Not everything always tickles my taste-buds; but 95% is a pretty good success rate; doncha think? Before I received this a month or so ago I’d never actually heard of Mr Whitmore, although he has previously released 7 album (3 on Anti Records and one on *Bloodshot!) and even though his preferred instrument of choice is ……. the banjo I was still prepared to listen with an open mind (as always!). Well, I’m glad I did; as this has been quite the voyage of discovery. Although I shouldn’t have been; the ‘old timey’ feel of first track Put It To Use still took me by surprise. Banjo, fiddle and a grizzled vocal add together to give a Hill Country/Folk sound, which isn’t what I expect from Bloodshot ….. but why the Hell not; as it’s a bit of a dandy, now I’ve got my head around it. Phew; William picks up his acoustic guitar on the next song, Solar Flare, and it’s nearly as clever as it’s melodious; and yes …… there is a melody and even a catchy chorus on what, to all intents and purposes is a Folk song. For his eighth album; there’s something of a ‘sampler’ or ‘Best Of’ feel; as he never sits still, with no two songs sounding the same. With that in mind; his distinctive worn and lived-in grizzly voice carries everything along like a wonderfully worn leather suitcase; ‘the tales it could tell’ ….. which is exactly what we get here. I love the rambunctious Black Iowa Dirt and the toe-tapping Honky Tonk of My Mind Can Play Cruel Tricks On Me just as much as the passionate Alt. Country songs History and Save Ourselves; which is quite some feat when you take them out of context they sound as if they are by completely different acts. Which is actually why I’ve become smitten with the whole damn album; every time I play it something new springs out to make me study his words as much as his cleverly constructed musical arrangements (even the solo acoustic songs are complicated). This will most likely change tomorrow; and then again next week, but tonight I’m torn between two songs as my choice of Favourite. I’m Here is the type of intricate Folk Ballad I normally associate with Rod Picott or Slaid Cleaves; and that’s high praise indeed. The other; and I’m erring on the side of saying it is my actual Favourite Song here; is a brave choice for me as it’s played out on the banjo and a ‘talking Blues’ very much in the style of Tom Paxton; and yes MK Ultra Blues certainly is my Favourite, as it’s so very different from what I normally like …. and has really captured my imagination. If I was to start re-discovering William Elliott Whitmore’s back catalogue, I could do worse than start with *KILONOVA (which it turns out I actually own!) Whoops! Bloodshot completists like myself are in for a nice surprise when they buy this; and I hope is existing fan base love it as much as I do; but if you are a Music Fan with a broad mind I urge you too to give this a try; I very much doubt you will be disappointed and pretty sure you’re going to find a few songs that will live in your sub-conscious for a long time to come.
A Modern Country Rock Classic With Added Rootsy Bits.
Even if I hadn’t liked Te’d previous release WALKIN’ SHOES so much, the cover of Down In The Den would have stopped me in my tracks in a record shop …… as it looks like some ‘great lost Country Rock’ album that should be on Atco or Warner Bros; and …… do you know what? It kind of is. I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Shooter Jennings’ bass player is one helluva musician; but he’s a canny songwriter (and co-songwriter) too as opening track Home Sweet Hollywood proves in ‘spades’ (card playing metaphor!). It feels like a slow saunter down Main Street as Ted sticks his tongue firmly in his cheek on this ‘love song’ to Tinsel Town. Only a long term resident can come up with some of the razor sharp observations here: “The sun shines every day but it really heats up at night with the cars and the bars and the wannabe stars soaking up the neon light For every actress waiting tables and bartender in a band there’s a screenwriter sitting in a coffee shop dreaming ’bout the promised land“ Then of course there’s the insightful chorus …….. “Home Sweet Hollywood You gotta be crazy to stay ……… but I wouldn’t have it any other way!” It certainly sets not just the scene; but the mood too. Speaking of moods; in the best tradition of Country Rock, Kamp effortlessly glides the tempo from laid back fast to laid back slow in the blink of an eye. The imagery in Ted’s songs can be quite extraordinary at times; and combine that with some exemplary playing from the band; you can’t help but fall in love with the likes of Stick With Me, Only Son and Have Some Faith, which features some really sweet Dobro in the background too. In theory this is the type of album that you just stick on and let it ‘takeover’ like some crazy musical osmosis; but the individual songs can all be taken out of context and bring a smile to the face of anyone listening on AOR Radio (if such a thing still exists). I can only imagine what it would be like if I was driving along one sunny day and any of The Good Part, Waste a Little Time or My Turn To Cry came out of the AM speakers …….. if nothing else a smile would adorn my lips and a twinkle would come to my eyes. While I love the more uptempo tracks like Heart Under Pressure; which fall somewhere between Buffalo Springfield and Tom Petty; but that’s not to say that the more introspective acoustic tracks are to be ignored. Why would anyone ever want to skip past the Country Blues of Hold On or especially the album closer, a stinging duet with Kirsten Proffitt; Take My Song With You which has the capacity to bring a tear to a glass eye. While 90% of the songs here have the ability to be singles; two in particular have really, really captured my heart. The first few times I heard St. Severin I genuinely thought Kamp was singing about St. Celery! But, hey ……. I’m an old man with dodgy ears. That apart, this almost epic and intense track really does stand out from the pack; but I’m going slightly left of centre for my Favourite Song ……… the piano led Word For Word; a beautifully crafted Love Song about the feelings we have for that ‘special one’ when we are apart. “When I finally get to kiss you I’ll tell you just how much I miss you We’ll sway along to the sweetest song we’ve ever heard Every moment that you hold me and every secret that you told me will fill my heart when we’re apart word for word.” Love it! Kamp is not just a talented songwriter, but smart too; and that certainly comes to the fore on one very special song; Rainy Day Valentine. What can I say that won’t spoil it? It’s a Love song of sorts. But far from simple. Is it about a booty-call? Possibly, but I doubt it ………. Ted alongside Dave Kennedy are far too clever for that, methinks. There are 14 tracks here, which is a lot these days; and every one is well worth five minutes of your time; even the Swampy and greasy N’Orlean’s style Hobo Nickel; which although Ted Kamp wanted to write a Summer Anthem in the vein of Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime, kind of reminds me of early Dr. Hook when he had a Medicine Show. That apart; Kamp and Friends have managed to create the perfect soundtrack to a warm Summers evening with a bottle of wine, a few beers and great company.
The Silky Smooth Essence of Darkly Romantic Americana
Although this is their third album I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of husband and wife duo, The Danberrys, but you know me ……. nothing if not open minded and musically adventurous. YEE and indeed HAW! Dorothy Daniel hadn’t even opened her mouth when I knew that this album was going to be right up my metaphorical street! Ben DeBerry’s hauntingly strummed guitar made my head pop up like a meerkat; but when Dorothy’s smoky and ethereal vocal slid in like Spring mist I couldn’t do anything other than sit back in my chair and let it all sink in for the next forty plus minutes; without moving an inch. I-Tunes dubbed this Americana/Blues when I downloaded the CD to my laptop; and I can’t totally disagree, but even that description doesn’t come close to what you actually hear, here. There’s as much Country and Folk as there is anything else, with The Road and Never Gone evoking memories of both Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou at times; but Rain is beautifully harmonious Hill Music that will send a shiver down your spine. There’s even a Guest Singer in the mix too; none other than Darrell Scott who joins Dorothy on The Mountain which at only four minutes long, has all the hallmarks of an Epic Story; and I’m sure can be stretched out on stage, with even more evocative guitar playing and intense drumming. I’m still at the stage where some songs are unravelling to reveal hidden depths (Love Conquers War?) and others have already left me marvelling at not just the storytelling (Maddie’s Ghost) but also what a truly special voice Dorothy Daniel has and certainly knows how to use it to entrap unsuspecting listeners (The River is Wide & The Coals Glow?). Which brings me to choosing a Favourite Song. Perhaps I should close my eyes and just stick a pin in the track list on the back cover; but I like to give the illusion of being more professional than that (which will make some people laugh!) so I’m finally selecting the shimmering Holding The Bag which is perhaps the most ‘Folkish’ of everything here; but in a true Country-Folk manner, combining a heartbreaking tale with evocative singing and a perfectly subtle accompaniment from the musicians in the background. SHINE certainly isn’t a ‘concept album’ in any shape or form; but ………. the way the moods change from song to song in the character driven stories give you the sense that the couple have sequenced the tracks in such a way, as to make you feel that you are joining them on an emotional journey from somewhere to here.
Amy LaVere Painting Blue Archer Records/Nine Mile Records
Emotionally Charged Songs For Lovers Who Find The World To Be a Messy But Beautiful Place.
As its title suggests, this is an album that finds itself on the darker side of the emotional spectrum. The opening song is a cover of John Martyn’s “I don’t wanna know,” mixing Will Sexton’s deep torchy guitar Twang and Amy’s breathy, plaintive delivery to fine effect. “No Battle Hymn” is musically more uptempo, with washes of organ, but is almost lyrically despondent until the very end, when the demand is made that; ‘We need a battle hymn in our hearts’. “Girlfriends” takes a Latin Bossa Nova rhythm and warns the listener about taking emotional advice from others, “Don’t let your girlfriends – tell you what you need” – sage advice to follow your heart. “You’re not in Memphis” continues the theme of personal completeness – over a gently soulful rumbling groove, Amy lists how the city is incomplete without a whole number of things – including her partner. “Love I’ve missed” continues a similar theme of completeness in a relationship and expresses regret at resisting being in that relationship; appropriately, partner Will Sexton contributes beautifully decorative guitar fills that sparkle throughout. “No room for baby” …with the repeated refrain of “Maybe I was waiting…to run out of wine,” builds on the personal reflection and analysis of a life that’s gone by. “There’ll be no child for me” – probably the best menopausal song that I’ve heard, as it deals with time not being long enough to fit in all the things that we want to do, at the times we want to. “Stick Horse” is a more humorous account of making do, with marvelous refrain – “I’m making out like a one-armed bandit”. Piano accordion lifts the tone and there’s a wistful smile in Amy’s delivery. The second cover on the album is a brave take on “Shipbuilding” – slightly more up-tempo than both the Wyatt and Costello versions, Amy leaves the bass off the recording and is accompanied in a suitably sparse manner by accordion and backing vocals. The title track ends the album and takes a philosophical viewpoint that “you’re painting blue on everything” – colour metaphors are used, however, to offer hope that the world can be viewed in more than just a depressing way. Thumping drums, accordion and deep Twang take the listener out with qualified hope. An album that will find emotional connection with those who find the world a messy but beautiful place – “Painting Blue” itself creates beauty as it scours through the darkness for the goodness that is out there.
AMA UK Showcase Festival various Venues Hackney London January 27th-29th 2020
As is ever the case with these things, you can’t see everything, so this is just what I saw across the three nights. Plus, the night prior to the event itself, Oslo Hackney hosted a charity fundraiser entitled “Americana Clash” – with the likes of Danny Champ, Elles Bailey, Terra Lightfoot, Judy Blank, Lady Nade, Kyshona, Irish Mythen, Felix from Curse of Lono, Michele Stodart (who was also bassist in the superb house band) Austin Lucas and Frank Turner provided a fun, exuberant opening, covering songs from The Clash. Special props to guitarist Jim Maving, who was every inch the rock star and filled Mick Jones’ boots superbly.
First night proper and I began in Night Tales – a frigid warehouse converted into a nightclub where Austin Lucas, who ended last year’s festival with a dramatic performance at Paper Dress Vintage continued where he’d left off – in the live setting, Lucas is adept at creating intimacy and engagement and produced another dynamic performance.
A trip across the road to Oslo for Pete Gow and the Siren Strings was next on the schedule – whose songs which had grown slowly on me on record, lifted and soared in the context of a live performance. Echoes of Richard Hawley, The Walker Brothers and Warren Zevon (There was a cover of “Lawyers, Guns and Money”) created a truly majestic experience. Unmissable.
Back across two pedestrian crossings and up the stairs into Paper Dress Vintage to catch Malin Pettersen. On this occasion Malin was backed by Darling West and so there was a much greater jangle than twang in her sound than I’d previously heard – she’s an artiste growing tremendously in confidence from when I first saw her a couple of years back; and her experimentation and willingness to take chances and diversify in her sound is only to be praised.
Next it was back to Night Tales and Amy LaVere, joined by her husband Will Sexton – Amy was clad in Gothic black lace; the noir-ish lighting suited her Twang and melodious dry humour. Amy’s got a new album “Painting Blue” coming out soon – it’s going to be worth finding, if not for her superb cover of John Martyn’s “I Don’t Wanna Know” alone.
Sam Baker has only ever been on the periphery of my listening habits, but his short set was one of those where an artist, seen in the live setting, suddenly makes complete sense. Razor-sharp human(e) storytelling silenced a rowdy bar. Lovely bloke too.
I was then followed by the awful choice of deciding between Robert Vincent and Amy Speace who were on at the same time at opposite ends of Mare Street. As I’ll be seeing Mr Vincent a couple of times later in the year, I stayed put and went for The Amy Speace option and wasn’t disappointed. Accompanied by the ever-fantastic and humble CJ Hillman on pedal steel and guitar as well as Ali Sperry and Kyshona on backing vocals for a couple of songs, this was a much bigger performance than the Empire Bar could contain. Epic balladry, heartfelt emotion and sharp wit provided an excellent conclusion to my first night’s listening and viewing.
Day two began with a non-festival bonus – Gill Landry and Malin Pettersen played half hour slots at Rough Trade East in the early afternoon. In the solo situation, the voice of Malin Pettersen is as pure a country instrument as you could wish for. Take away a band and all she needs is the acoustic guitar to frame the strength and melody in her delivery – her cover of George Jones’ “Take Me” was the icing on the cake. Gill Landry who followed is a Waits-ian storyteller who delivered enough intriguing tracks from his new album “Skeleton At The Banquet” to encourage further investigation.
The showcase Day 2 officially began in earnest for me by watching Croydon (Yes, Croydon) bluegrass band The Vanguards at the Empire Bar – credit to them for writing their own material and delivering it with enthusiasm.
I stayed in the Empire bar, (much to the annoyance of my Apple watch fitness reminders) for Dean Owens and the Southerners. Ably accompanied by Jim Maving and Tom Collison (who played keyboards and bass – at the same time…!). Dean featured songs from his forthcoming “Best of” release and lyrically and musically referenced the likes of the Faces in an enjoyable set.
A couple of hundred yards down the road to Oslo and up three flights of stairs to catch the two discoveries, for me, of the festival. I wandered into Oslo just as Jonah Tolchin was kicking off his set. Accompanied by Joe Harvey-Whyte on psychedelic, yet bluesy and subtle pedal steel, the two complemented each other in delivering a set with lyrical and musical depth containing shades of old blues and American folk-country.
Mapache were not on my radar at all – if the Louvin Brothers had been played by Bill and Ted, that might give you some idea – glorious harmonies around a single mic, flitting across a variety of west-coast styles, dude. They opened with a cover of New Riders of the Purple Sage “Lonesome LA Cowboy”, sang beautifully in Spanish and covered several Laurel Canyon bases inbetween. I’d downloaded everything I could find them before the end of the night. Hopefully they’ll be back soon…
I stayed in Oslo for the third gig in a row and this time it was Michaela Anne, who’d played the festival last year, but this year was brought in under the Yep Roc umbrella. With a crack transatlantic band, Michaela’s voice was appropriately high in the mix – pure country that could and should be massive, the set focused around “Desert Dove”, she’s another artiste who I’ve seen a few times over the last couple of years who’s really developing in the live arena.
I last saw Chatham County Line about ten years ago and in that time they’ve lost Chandler Holt to retirement, but the remaining trio have added drums to their touring line-up – it works well – they still have the killer harmonies and melodies, but with added punch. Playing a set that featured tracks from their “Shaking the Covers” release, they utilised their half-hour showcase slot wisely with a set that contained a lot of audience friendly material.
Last show of the day and of the festival for me was back along the length of Mare Street to the Empire bar to see Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra at the Empire Bar – reliable and as rambunctious as ever, they delivered a set of crowd pleasers (My French friend from Marseilles was particularly taken with ‘Une Bouteille De Beaujolais’). Somebody please put these guys on a chat show or in a sitcom!
All in all, a hectic but interesting three days – well done once more to all at the AMA UK. As ever, disappointed that I’m still not able to clone myself and see everything, but pleased that I saw as much good stuff as I did – and as a bonus, I broke my exercise records on the Apple watch!
Introspective, Thoughtful and Soul Affirming Country From a Master-Songwriter.
I’ve got a friend, ‘Scribbler’ who is not just a fan but a friend of Kinky Friedman; introducing The Star many times over the years at The Jumpin’ Hot Club on Tyneside. My friend once made me a ‘Best Of’ cassette that I didn’t have the heart to tell him never got past Track #3 or 4. In my defence The Kinkster was always more of a Novelty Act rather than a songwriter to be taken seriously by the likes of me. That changed a few years ago with the release of The Loneliest Man I Ever Met in 2015 when he sort of ‘got his act together’ and wrote and performed ‘proper songs’ that reflected his life as a man in his late 60’s. This third album since that renaissance is very much in the same lineage, and full of songs that an aging man who has had a full and interesting life can write. Opening track Mandela’s Blues is fascinating, partly because the melody is South African in concept (think Paul Simon’s GRACELAND) and Kinky’s loving story of this Great Statesman will surely make us think twice about today’s political leaders who are generally financially motivated rather than a genial and caring Statesman, caring for all under his care as Nelson Mandela was. More than once here Friedman taps into his early coffee-shop troubadour heritage for inspiration; one of the best is title track Resurrection, with it’s jaunty Country Beat masking a beautifully heart rending and even heart reviving story. Somewhere in the mix Willie Nelson makes an appearance, duetting on the chorus, but it’s Friedman’s words and the way he drawls them that will stay with you hours after hearing this song. I’m still impressed that Friedman can use his songwriting powers to touch the frayed parts of my heart that others rarely touch these days; with I Love You When It Rains and The Bridge That Never Burns, which immediately follows are two such Classic Country-Folk songs that deserve to be heard not just in the safety of our homes but on National Radio too. In a similarly enigmatic vein Blind Kinky Friedman takes us on a dark journey into his soul and heart, with a scintillating Country Blues soundtrack and later on A Dog In The Sky, a love song to ‘mans best friend’ who has passed and the innate feeling of loneliness that can leave their owner/best friend with. Kinky Friedman has never ever been a ‘one trick pony’ and he proves that here by slipping seamlessly between genres while still making a cohesive ‘Americana’ album; Greater Cincinnati is a straightforward Country tune in the style of George Jones yet Ai! Mariachi is a Border Song Deluxe that Tom Russell would be proud of, which shows what a rare talent this man actually is; and probably always has been. As a ‘man of a certain age’ myself many, many songs here have touched me in a way that I’ve thought “that will be my Favourite Song”, the gentle and evocative Me & Billy Swan is a perfect example as Friedman sings of all the unsung heroes from Nashville of old; but then again the Honky Tonky waltz Carrying The Torch is just beautiful; pure and simple; but in the time old tradition Kinky Friedman has kept the best until last with Spirit Dad. Friedman’s ‘band’ of Larry Campbell, Lincoln Schleifer, Dennis McDermott and Bill Payne come into their own as the hottest swing band to ever play on a song; and boy what a song! I won’t spoil the ‘surprise’ but woah!!! is this a doozy or what? With the benefit of hindsight I think I can give you an eloquent argument as to why Johnny Cash’s AMERICAN SERIES opened the door for the likes of Kinky Friedman and a host of other singers who can no longer actually ‘sing’ regale us with tales and interpretations that ‘mean something’ without really worrying about commercial success; whereas they do often, ironically win Awards and top radio charts!
Rachel Harrington Hush The Wild Horses Skinny Dennis Records
Raw and Articulate Americana That Eases Between Shadow and Light.
It’s odd how ‘fate’ plays a hand in life, isn’t it? Or, as my father used to say; “God acts in mysterious ways.” A few weeks ago I was having a beer with a friend I’d not seen in a year or so and during the conversation he asked, “Can you remember that woman we saw in that cafe in Tynemouth?” I scratched my head and eventually remembered her name as Rachel Harrington; and we both wondered whatever happened to her. Two days later this album dropped on the hall mat! Spooky, or what????? Apparently she’s been ill and subsequently took a couple of years, that stretched to 8 ‘off’; and as part of her therapy began rescuing horses, which has rekindled her love of music …… which took her to a Mary Gauthier songwriting retreat and here is the result. While I own two of her previous four releases I haven’t played them in years; and deliberately avoided them while listening this week, for fear of pre-judgement. The first thing you will notice is the stark beauty of the recording; this is Americana in it’s purest form; starting with Hush The Wild Horses itself, which has a violently strummed acoustic guitar, militaristic drumbeat a maudlin fiddle accompany Rachel’s pained vocals. It has to be said that ‘there aren’t many laughs here’ as Rachel delves deep into the darkest recesses of her heart for these stories; many of which sound quite cathartic; none more so than Child of God which finds the singer only barely restraining herself from screaming and possibly even crying as she tells a harrowing tale of a child’s sexual abuse (her own actually.) Truth really is stranger than fiction in this case. I hadn’t noticed until earlier today how not just the dark subject matter of her songs, but the timbre in her voice and even the way she actually sings reminds me of Joni Mitchell circa Blue! The other name that sprung to mind was Guy Clark; and it wasn’t until I finally read the Press Release that Rachel tells us that her beautiful song Susanna is actually a tribute to the Great Man; who is/was one of her all-time heroes. (Serendipity again?) Which in its own way puts her powerful Vietnam based songs into perspective; starting with Mekong Delta, about on her own Uncle’s experiences in Vietnam and then the rocking and rolling Drop Zone; but most especially The Barn; a subtly deceptive tale based on a story about her Mother’s first love which will bring tears to a glass eye. While there is more than enough shade here; there is also plenty of light ……. with Rachel pouring her heart out in the brittle love songs I Meant to Go To Memphis and the delightful Save Yourself; which is Americana in its rawest form. I say ‘Americana’ which is the best way I can describe these songs, as they conjure up cinematic imagery in a way we associate with filmmakers as disparate as John Ford and David Lynch. I’m actually selecting two songs as my joint Favourite Songs; If Wishes Were Horses and Drinking About You, which both transcend what we think of as Americana Music and even Country although both fit very comfortably into either genre. While the subject matter here is often challenging, it will also resonate with many people of ‘a certain age’ and many of whom will find solace in Rachel Harrington’s words, while her Love Songs; not always easy on the ear manage to shine a light in a way very few modern songwriters can achieve in such an eloquent manner.
Light, Bright and Understated Songs of Americana Dreaminess.
Consistency is a hard line to toe when you’re an artist. Too much and all your material sounds too much the same, not enough and you risk alienating an audience who expects enough of that consistency in order to have something familiar to latch onto. With Is It the Kiss, Ana Egge’s latest, she manages the right mix of both. We get more of the wonderful woodwinds and simple sounds from Egge’s previous album, White Tiger, throughout this new one which is a nice touch. You don’t hear that on too many rock and folk albums these days and they give Egge’s songs a warm yet light touch, which reminds me of some of Jonathan Richman’s albums — another artist who understands dynamics and the benefits of a light, understated touch. Egge has a way with sincerity. I get the feeling that these songs rise up out of her and bubble to the surface when they’re ready instead of having to be coaxed. Her songs don’t sound forced, nor are they full of lyrical trickiness that makes one say “Oh, what a witty writer.” Instead, these songs are way past that, coming from decidedly purer places. If a writer’s job is to say “This is who I am right now, and this what I see,” then Egge has done her job remarkably well. I’m not a believer of a need for poetry in rock music, and there is little of that here. Egge is less Bob Dylan and more Gordon Lightfoot or Tywanna Jo Baskette, and for that we should all be grateful. But what about the songs, you say? “Cocaine Cowboys” is so perfectly crafted it could be a lost Willie Nelson classic, and Egge’s dreamy-druggy euphoric delivery is flawless. The sawdust pedal steel and tenuous touches on the harmonies and piano make this the perfect lead off song on a finely crafted album. “Hurt A Little” is part life lesson, part plaintive call for peace of mind with a marvelous melody and subtly driving electric guitar. “Stay the Night” with its pleas of patient wanting and fearlessness is a seduction song — but who is she trying to convince? Herself or her hopeful lover? On an album of short songs, this one’s the shortest, clocking in at 2:35, but has some great lines such as “What is it about a secret, that makes you wanna keep it?” delivered with honest matter of factness, not cheekily, that make this one a standout. “Chasing Rabbits in the Sun” leaves us on a darker, yet welcome, note. This is impressionist songwriting. You know SOMETHING is going on, but not exactly what. This one is like a dream you just woke from, waiting for the coffee to kick in. This album, much like her previous one, is full of deft subtleties and soft intensities which magnify the mood. Ana Egge’s albums could be considered “quiet,” but they’re not “easy-listening” at all. One thing Egge and her producer and musicians understand is how that sometimes intentionally holding back can create more tension than bombastics or playing ahead of the beat. Bravo.
Willie Nelson Ride Me Back Home Legacy Recordings/Sony Music
The Edgiest Easy Listening Country You May Ever Hear.
I have a confession to make ……… I’ve never heard a Willie Nelson album before…..no….. not even a Greatest Hits….. nothing……. I’ve wanted to; but where to start in a canon of work that stretches back to before I was even born? So; this has been quite exciting in it’s own little way. The album opens with the reflectively charming title track Ride Me Back Home; and already I felt comfortable and in good company, as Nelson’s distinctive and somewhat iconic voice hits the notes it needs to without ever over reaching; and the simple backing leaves you with a smile on your face on a song using the metaphor of Nelson’s 60 or so ‘rescue horses’ for the latter days of our lives. Nelson himself has contributed four songs here (3 of which are with Buddy Canon) and the other 8 are a fascinating mix of the old and the new, showing what an astute ear the man has. Of his own songs he revisits 1972’s Stay Away From Lonely Places and while I don’t know the original I doubt it was an edgy late night lounge tune, as it is here; which brings me to the ‘key thing’ that has always confused me about Willie Nelson, for Country Music’s #1 Outlaw ….. he sure can put the ‘easy’ into Easy Listening! Which is probably the best way to describe the smooth as silk interpretation of Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are and the delightful Maybe I Should Have Been Listening, which closes the record; with Nelson’s tired ole voice bringing even extra pathos to the words in both. Some years ago he visited the Great American Songbook; and that was what sprung to mind when I first heard Seven Year Itch; but it’s brand new and written especially for this project; which probably goes to show what a great songwriter he still is. But, make no mistake; this isn’t ‘background music’ by any stretch of the imagination; as on bassist Dan Spears’ Nobody’s Listening he tells a harrowing and heartbreaking account of a man on the edge, as he loses his job and his world then crumbles around him; then the song moves onto and into the small towns that have been swept aside by crazy weather patterns; then Nelson finishes by feeling ‘useless as a singer’, but he continues anyway in the belief that somewhere Somebody’s Listening. It’s intelligent, smart and most of all thought provoking. In the same way, Nelson breathes new life into Guy Clark’s Immigrant Eyes, which may or may not make Middle America think about where they came from; and where their country is right now. A beautiful song with diamond cut edges, beautifully sung. While trying to choose a Favourite Song, I knew even before I first heard it that I would love it; because Guy Clark’s My Favourite Picture Of You is one of my favourite songs of all time*; and yes; Willie really does do it justice. But …… there’s another contender for the throne today; as alongside sons Lukas and Micah Nelson they have had me heartily singing along to their tongue in cheek version of the tongue in cheek It’s Hard to Be Humble ……. which, may or may not be dedicated to me! Hahahahahah ….. that’s a joke. I’m not sure that there’s any surprises here for Willie’s fans; but for me every single track has been a delightful surprise and perhaps when I retire I will have the time to visit his back catalogue.
*Clark’s original is in the line up for my funeral btw.
RJ Cowdery What If This Is All There Is? Goose Pie Music
Robustly Delicate Songs From the Country/Folk Axis.
It appears RJ Cowdery from Columbus, Ohio is one of those ‘wandering troubadour’ musicians who has a list of Festival Appearances, Songwriting Competitions, support slots and house concerts as long as your arm; and then some; yet is still flying under the musical radar; which greatly saddens me. She is far from alone in that regard; but when I see and hear some of the ‘over night’ wonders in our little world, I truly despair at the state of the music industry. But; and this may be naive on my behalf; but I firmly believe talent will always win through …… just sometimes you have to wait a bit longer than you deserve. Why do I feel this way? Listen to the first song here; Somewhere A Place and you will hear a woman who can weave golden textures through a sad old love song; and sing it with a voice that is both ‘world weary’ and hopeful at the same time. RJ treads the path that is part Americana, part Roots, Part Folk and a whole lotta Country with ease on her insightful and perceptive songs, taking us on some kind of personal journey that will capture both your heart and imagination when she powers through Broken Wheel then drags things down to raw basics with Is There Time and Secrets of My Dreams. We’ve all seen a lot of singer-songwriters like RJ Cowdrey in our time; but very few have a canon of songs this sharply observed and coupled to imaginative melodies that will make you feel like you’ve known them all of your life. RJ Cowdrey has this quality in Shotgun Rider and the heartfelt title track What If This Is All There Is? I’ve racked my brains, as I was sure I’d heard both songs before ….. but no sirree, these and everything else here are brand new and shiny just for this album. Then, there are two very, very special songs here that definitely deserve a worldwide audience; her interpretation of Josh Ritter’s Girl in the War is absolutely heartbreaking, and I hope Josh finds it half as beautiful as I have done. The other is Lost & Found, and finds itself the RMHQ Favourite Song here, with the opening verse sending a shiver down my spine; “Here we are, falling stars looking for a place to land Not really knowing where we’re going holding on best that we can Like two old birds, mincing words scratching round’ the back yard Talking life and sacrifice we’re only as strong as our parts Oh what a journey such a hurry Let’s slow this whole thing down Take a back road you and me we’re on our own.” It’s been difficult to try and pin down where RJ Cowdrey fits in; as she writes a song that could easily be found on a Joan Baez or even Emmylou Harris album; as she can conjure up images in the mould of Lucinda or perhaps even Ashley McBryde but also Amy Speace too, who coincidentally (?) produced the record ; but I also imagine she has spent a lot of time listening to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson too…… ultimately dissecting each until she has found her very own style; and one she should be rightly proud of.