Mandolin Orange TIDES OF A TEARDROP

Mandolin Orange
Tides of a Teardrop
Yep Roc Records

Intimate and Lucid Lo-Fi Meets Bluegrass in a Country Juke Joint.

Mandolin Orange aka Andrew Marlin & Emily Frantz have been around for ten years now and have previously released 5 albums, with each gaining praise, sales and momentum which have launched the couple/duo into the lower echelons of the Big League, yet I don’t believe I’ve heard a single note, let alone a song prior to receiving this album a month ago.
How odd is that? Or is it?
Perhaps it was because they hail from the Folksier end of the spectrum, which I normally don’t go out of my way to find music…… but the fault it appears was solely mine……. I’ve now fully fallen in love with this album and two of their previous releases too.
With their small, but perfectly formed touring band in tow, the couple holed up in the studio for a lot longer than on previous records; which has allowed Marlin’s intimate and darkly winsome songs to evolve and grow into something very special indeed.
The wordplay and story-line in opening track Golden Embers is both understated and spectacular in equal measures; and when you add Emily’s breathtaking violin playing to Andrew’s softly expressive vocals; you can’t do anything other than sit back and let it all waft over you like a Summer breeze.
Not that it’s blatantly obvious; as each individual song stands alone and is here on its own merits; but after reading the Press Release and then playing the album there is a silvery theme linking each track; as Marlin delves into his past writes about the years following his Mother’s death at an early age.
This knowledge helps explain the unsettling, yet beautiful melancholia that fills Mother Deer and the George and Tammy influenced duet Lonely All The Time.
As I said earlier, each song has its own merits and showcases Marlin’s clever and very mature writing skills; with Suspended in Heaven and the heartbreaker When She’s Feeling Blue, somehow bridging the gap between Bluegrass and Lo-Fi with sumptuous ease.
Perhaps because the songs are so personal to him, Andrew Marlin takes the lead on most songs; but when Emily steps forward on Into The Sun and Like You Used To she sent a tingle down my spine in a way that reminded me of the first time I heard Nanci Griffith.
I’ve picked my Favourite Song here partly because it is a wonderful song and tune; but because the title made my smile when I first saw it on the CD Sleeve. My British friends will know immediatly why it would catch my attention; but the ‘joke’ may pass by the people in North America; as The Wolves is the nickname of a famous football (Soccer?) team in the UK! Mercifully this tightly wrapped and intense song of despair and fear is a million miles away from anything so frivolous.
I will tell you how good it is…….. prior to writing this review, I turned the lights off and pressed play on the Hi-Fi just so I could get into the right frame of mind to hear it in all its primal glory.
I’d barely heard of Mandolin Orange a month ago…… but after immersing myself in TIDES OF A TEARDROP I’m an unadulterated fan now.

Released 1st February 2019
http://www.mandolinorange.com/

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Kaz Murphy RIDE OUT THE STORM

Kaz Murphy
Ride Out The Storm
Barn Wall Media


A Golden Voice and a Red Hot Way With Words on his Blue Collar Stories

Well; my dears, what better and more fascinating way to start a New Year than discovering a singer-songwriter getting a second wind that leaves him with the world at his feet?
In this fractured world we now inhabit Murphy opens his latest album with a semi-political song of ‘hope’ in When People Come Together, a song that invokes memories of the counter culture in the late 60’s but couldn’t be more relevant today if it was wearing a a pair of skinny jeans that are torn at the knees. Plus; it’s all the better for Murphy’s powerful, yet world weary vocal performance and a whole lot more here.
While he will probably crop up in the Country section of record shops and/or collections; but Kaz Murphy is the latest in a long list of story telling troubadours that straddle the Country/Folk divide with ease, and in the case of Thunderhead, Somebody Could Be Me and Forget About The World Tonight; he shows good grace and eloquence too.
For a relatively ‘simple sounding’ album, there’s a whole lot going on here and a whole lot to like with not just the subjects Murphy sings about; but the passionate way he delivers his words in the gorgeous Blue Devil Sky, Stella Rae and especially the claustrophobic song for the downtrodden; All I Wanna Do Is Work.
I love the ‘echo’ on Where You Come From, a song that is very close to my own heart although Murphy’s smart words are for and about someone very different from me; but as with the hero of this song, I left my home village 40 years ago, but as Murphy sings:
“Your spirit never really leaves, where you come from.”
Which is why I still tell people that,
“I live in Washington, but come from Craghead in Co. Durham.”
It wasn’t a real surprise to find that Slaid Cleaves’ friend Scrappy Jud Newcomb produced this collection of ‘Blue Collar’ tales; which brings me to the two songs tangling for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song; A Sunny Day and Rise Me Up.
A Sunny Day is a bit of a misnomer for a timeless tale that tips a wink to Johnny Cash in words and delivery, and would have fit perfectly well into Cash’s American Series, where he still alive today.
The other, Rise Me Up features some spectacular mandolin playing (an expression I never thought I would type!) and is a more upbeat, almost Gospel song that closes the disc and just makes my heart pound with life, love and hope, which is why it just about squeezes past the post to be my Favourite Track here.
He’s been around a long time; but Kaz Murphy is a new and exciting find for me and I just hope he visits the UK some time soon, because he will find a warm welcome for his songs in the Americana Clubs that litter our little country, like diamonds in the road.

https://kazmurphy.com/new-release-ride-out-the-storm/
Released UK January 11th 2019
Released US February 8th 2019

Kate Campbell DAMN SURE BLUE

kate campbell c

Kate Campbell
DAMN SURE BLUE
Large River Music

Thoughtful and Inspirational Observations on the World Around Us.

To some degree Kate Campbell is a ‘child of the 60’s whose father was a Baptist Preacher and an activist in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi; and it’s fair to say that background has been the backbone of her career as a singer-songwriter for the last 40 years; but be assured she ain’t no hippy-trippy Flower-power Folkie; she uses everything in her musical armoury to get her message across to ears and minds of all persuasions.
There’s a heavenly blend of Southern Blues and Country Folk that comes across like a Savannah breeze in the articulated sadness of opening song Damn Sure Blue, when Ms Campbell tries to make sense of the crazy world we find ourselves in in 2018.
On the next song Change Should Have Come By Now she carefully uses a couple of classic couplets from People Get Ready and Sam Cooke’s Change alongside her own astute observations aligned to a Gospel backing to ally even more sadness and despair; but with a golden thread of hope weaving through the lyrics too.
DAMN SURE BLUE certainly isn’t a ‘Concept Album; but most if not every song here has a restrained anger about the way that while plenty of the world has got richer and richer, not a lot has changed apart from the names over the last half century for plenty at the bottom and even the middle of the pile.
If you listen carefully and two songs in particular draw your mind to Johnny Cash in the politics that Kate includes in her tales. One of the songs most associated with Cash, The Ballad of Ira Hayes gets a new lick of paint here; but baring in mind it was written in 1962 it still has a relevance in 2018; which is truly sad. Towards the end a song from the pen of Cash is also included; but one I’d not heard before. Forty Shades of Green is a winsome Celtic Folk song that fits in perfectly well as the storyteller dreams of better times back in Olde Ireland; but it’s not going to happen.
As well as that she also brings new life to the Louvin Brothers The Great Atomic Power too; making it a powerful force of nature again; with a punchy Memphis style backbeat as she herself takes on the role of a Baptist Preacher in the way she sings the words from the pits of her heart; and then she follows this with a brittle adaptation of the Eric Katz/Paul Simon song Christ, It’s Mighty Cold Outside which will stop you in your tracks.
Perhaps it’s the way Will Kimbrough has added his special flourishes to the production; I love the light and shade in the way songs like When You Come Back Home are juxtaposed with the gorgeous Sally Maxcy to hit the listener with poignancy of the finest order; but always keeping your full attention.
While this is a fully fledged ‘grown up’ album that demands that you sit and listen intently from start to finish with no distractions; two particular songs stand out, with the haunting Peace, Precious Peace being the perfect choice to close this record but I’m choosing the Delta Country of Long Slow Train as my Favourite Track; as it encapsulates everything that Kate Campbell is trying to get across on this album but happens to be a perfect example of what modern Country Music can achieve when it puts its mind to it. 10/10 Miss Campbell.
In my humble opinion Kate Campbell is always described as a ‘Folk Singer,’ but believe me she is much, much more than ‘just a Folk Singer’ as this, her 19th album (NINETEEN!) proves, she can melt all of her musical influences into something that transcends that rather tired and cumbersome writing style with ease and grace.

Released 21st September 2018
http://www.katecampbell.com/

A Different Thread ON A WHIM

A DIFFERENT THREAD

A Different Thread
ON A WHIM
Self-Release

A Spellbinding Blend Of British Folk and Carolina Hill Music.

We rather liked the last EP from Robert Jackson and Alicia Best and have been looking forward to the couple’s debut album since that release 12 months ago.
The album opens with Roberts pouring his heart out on the dark tinged Folk Song On a Whim; with Alicia supplying delicious harmonies that bely the couple’s background from different continents.
The mood picks up with the snappy Hold Me Down which follows; which has a bit of a sea-shanty melody if I’m not too mistaken, and the fiddle sounds a lot more British West Country than American West.
Which is actually one of the things I like most about A Different Thread; they aren’t afraid to mix n match their respective musical backgrounds; with one coming from the Litchfield middle of England and the other Durham, North Carolina.
Both singers; when they take the lad have their very own virtues; complimenting each other like leather and lace; with Alicia’s breathy and pearlescent voice being able to melt the hardest of hearts on Potter’s Field, Carolina Song and most notably the haunting Not Good With Words which closes the disc.
Jackson; on the other hand likes a good ole foot-stomper; with The Farmers Mistress and Hold Me Down proving I can like Traditional Folk music; if I really put my mind to it; but in these cases there’s definitely an Old School Americana feel to the tunes as well.
Choosing a favourite song hasn’t been easy as, when Jackson slows things down on High Time and Alicia provides shimmering harmonies the couple transcend normal musical boundaries; but I’m going to point you towards the pretty Rosa Rosa which has Alicia on lead vocals which somehow remind me of the young Rita Coolidge or maybe even Bobbie Gentry; I guess it’s the Southern genes that does it.
Sometimes I can get bogged down in comparing acts that you’ve not heard of, so you can get an idea of what they sound like; and now I’ve re-read my words it may confuse you if I mention singers and songwriters like Tom Paxton, Richard Thompson, Rita and even Sandy Denny; but there are hints of all these and more in the distinctive way A Different Thread perform their well written and thoughtful songs; but they don’t sound like any other duo/band I can actually think of, and that’s no bad thing at all.
Give them a try; I doubt you will be disappointed.

Released September 14th 2018
http://www.adifferentthread.com/

Ruston Kelly DYING STAR

a ruston kell vy

Ruston Kelly
DYING STAR
Rounder Records

Darkly Eloquent Stories From Lonely Street, Nashville.

Here’s a funny story.
After struggling to get my head around the new album from Nashville ‘go to’ Singer-Songwriter Ruston Kelly over a couple of weeks; and then spending two valuable hours last Saturday writing a review of it; I found out that the music I’d been listening to wasn’t Ruston Kelly at all!
Somehow I had misfiled the album on my computer ……so there’s now a ghost review awaiting an actual artist!
So……Ruston Kelly and DYING STAR?
Opening song Cover My Tracks is certainly windswept and interesting; as a world weary singer with a ‘lived in voice’ takes us on a journey into the darker recesses of Ryan Adams and Justin Townes Earle territory; and the outcome is rather beautiful too; especially when he sings “These are the golden years/Thought I’d never find em.” in such a droll voice.
That pervading mood becomes ever more intense, starting with next song Mockingbird which has a poetic feel to Kelly’s touching, yet angsty love song and later on with the sparse Just For the Record too.
While I can’t really imagine anyone other than Ruston Kelly singing the plaintive Blackout or the self-depreciating Faceplant; when he starts it with “I took too many pills again/Blacked out for a week/Didn’t eat/Didn’t sleep/Came too and did it again” …… but then again; as it unfolds into a song of hope perhaps I can.
The subject matter of Kelly’s songs is fascinating; with Paratroopers Battlecry being a heartbreaking look back at his younger days and loves; and the song that really touched my heart Big Brown Bus being a tale of abject loneliness as the narrator travels across Texas on said mode of transport.
Hmmmm; it’s fair to say after only half a day every song here could be my Favourite Song; but I’ve somehow whittled it down to a straight choice between two…… Brightly Burst Into Air, simply because it’s a very articulate and vulnerable Country Folk song and the other is the title track Dying Star; which is just plainly different from everything I expected from a ‘Country’ album; but one that goes some way to redefining the genre.
I realise better than anyone that there are a zillion singer-songwriters on the scene these days and all have their merits; but now (I’ve finally) heard it, DYING STAR is one of those rarities; it’s ‘immediate’ with Kelly’s distinctive voice coupled to a classic story telling style making you believe these songs have been in your life forever.

PS I will only mention it now; as she has nothing to do with the recording of these songs Ruston Kelly’s wife is Kacey Musgraves; so there.

Released September 7th 2018
https://www.rustonkelly.com/

Marla & David Celia DAYDREAMERS

Marla and david celia

Marla & David Celia
DAYDREAMERS
Elite Records

Love, Politics and Acutely Probing Worldly Observations.

Many years ago I remember seeing an advert in a Sunday newspaper for ‘Mood Music’ ……..I think it was the sound of whales farting or something; but the adage has stayed with me until now; and I can’t think of a better description for this delightful Folk/Americana hybrid from the ever wonderful David Celia and a new name to us, Marla Winkler………’Mood Music’……. but ‘Good Mood’ music.
Carry It On, the first thing you hear is a wonderfully dreamy three minutes with David sounding not unlike Neil Young on the high notes (which he hits and they stay hit!) and the harmonies produced by Ms Winkler are the sort you’d normally expect from a sibling……and the lyrics aren’t too shabby either.
This is the reason I put such great stead in albums having a good first song…….I was instantly hooked.
Things get a bit more jaunty on the Hill Country flavoured love song Lover Of Mine duet; which follows; nearly taking Marla and David into Dolly and Porter territory if I’m not mistaken.
In the accompanying bio the couple’s relationship is never actually made clear; but when they sing a love song not just sparks fly but rainbows come out of the speakers too on the title track Daydreamers and the song that captured Mrs. Magpie’s attention Heart Like a Dove; where again the couple appear to be singing to each other, without a care in the world that someone may be listening.
While plenty of tracks here could be described as ‘love songs’ the couple also squeeze in some acutely observational songs that err on the side of the politico spectrum; with the atmospheric Brave New World being a prime example, and Luddite Blues being the couple’s homage to Pete Seeger; and a contender for RMHQ Favourite Track at one stage.
Which neatly brings me to the award of Favourite Track; and even though the whole album could actually be worthy; I very nearly went for I Am Her Man which is a tightly wrapped ode of love and cracked my heart when I first heard it; but I’m now going for the winsome Warming Words which features Marla on lead and David on guitar and ghostly harmonies. If this hard working and touring couple had only ever produced one song together and it was this one; they could be rightly proud of the outcome on this one.
There really is so much to like here, from David Celia’s exquisite songwriting which take on a whole new life when sung alongside Marla Winkler, as both have not just complimentary voices; but styles that truly blend into one and the production, while simple still manages to fill any room you hear the songs in; which is quite some accomplishment for a ‘Folk’ album.

Released August 17th 2018
http://www.davidcelia.com/
https://www.facebook.com/marladavidcelia/

 

Jeremy Nail LIVE OAK

jeremy nail b

Jeremy Nail
LIVE OAK
Self-Release

Ethereal, Claustrophobic and Misty-Eyed Songs For Romantics Everywhere.

Jeremy Nail’s last album My Mountain in 2016 completely took us by surprise at RMHQ and was hardly out of our stereo for months; regardless of what shiny new disc was meant to be reviewed; and obviously it made our Annual Top 10 that year.
Time moves on and a lot of misty eyed singer-songwriters have graced our office in the last two years; but every now and again; normally when I’m feeling sad and lonely (it does happen) and the handsome young Texan can always make me at feel at ease with the dark edges of the world.
Then early last week a plain brown envelope arrived just as I was about to leave for work, so I left it on my desk alongside 4 or 5 others; and there it stayed until yesterday when I saw a link to a review on Twitter!
Affronted at not knowing about this release I was just about to pen a stinging letter to his Press Guru when I finally opened the aforementioned padded envelope.
Everything was put on hold as I carefully slid the CD into the player and sat back nervous and expectant……waiting to see if he could come close to that previous Masterwork.
Perhaps it’s my memory or the change of producer or just a maturing but opening song Abiquiu has a warm glow to it; even though it’s a sad tale of a mythical town somewhere unnamed that is dying like so many others across America. But here, Nail finds a tiny glint of hope and ends the song “Here in Gods Country/There is no glory without suffering/You dance between the two/on a chance you make it through/Abiquiu” then the title is repeated over and over again as the hypnotic guitars fade to dust.
Yep…..the kid still has it!
The title track Live Oak follows and some very precise and neat guitar picking takes us in a more Countrified direction than I’d expected. OK it’s not YEE HAW Country; but Nail’s beautiful narrative about a real tree in Austin Texas which was deliberately poisoned but saved may or may not be a parable about his own life and illness, and that’s Country enough for me.
For me Jeremy has a poets soul and very distinctive voice that washes over me and seeps into my heart whenever I hear him; and if you have never heard him before you are in for a rare treat when you hear Rolling Dice, the deceptively gorgeous So Long Yesterday and more importantly Other Side Of Time; which will have you tilting your ears towards the speakers as he sings in a loud whisper as an ethereal guitar and some angelic drumming fill the spaces behind his carefully crafted words.
In this highly technological world I’ve played this album on a number of different systems including my olde Technics Hi-Fi which has been long banished to the conservatory but strangely; for me songs like Freedom’s Bell and Fields of Our Fathers sound best when played through the tiny and tinny speakers on my laptop; as it gives them an extraordinarily claustrophobic sound that suits the dark and brooding way the songs are delivered.
Not for the first time in recent years; this is a complete album with no nods towards commercialism; this is very much the way Jeremy Nail intended this record to sound and be pieced together and the result is both brittle and beautiful; with one song in particular taking my breath away the first time I heard it; and even today I’ve had to repeat it three times in succession and the story (alongside others) is still unravelling; and I’m sure it will for years to come.
So, the haunting Sea Of Lights is my Favourite Track here; but you will have your own and will cherish it like a first born child’s first mittens or shoes.
For what sounds like a simple Country-Folk/Singer-Songwriter album; according to the sleeve notes there’s a hell of a lot going on behind Jeremy Nail’s voice; but it’s testament to the delicate production, engineering and mastering that you hardly notice them at all; but would miss all those extras if they weren’t there.
Released August 17th 2018
http://www.jeremynail.com

 

No Coward Soul THE ALMANAC

no coward soul cd

No Coward Soul
THE ALMANAC
Self-Release

Broodily Intriguing Americana From the Backwoods of South London.

I’ve often heard the argument that Americana (and indeed Country Music itself) can and should only be written and recorded in America, by Americans; which is exactly the same ridiculous point of view from heretics who claim ‘White men can’t sing the Blues!’
For what it’s worth much of the finest Americana music that I love comes from a romantic vision that many of us have of America from either across the USA’s Northern border or from across the Atlantic primarily in the UK.
Which brings us to No Coward Soul, a 5 piece band based in the backwoods of South London and revolving around singer Brad Schmauss who hails from Alaska.
Apparently stalwarts of the burgeoning Americana ‘scene’ in London and the South I wasn’t aware of this band until the CD arrived; but opening track the gentle hazy Lighthouse which finds Schmauss at the piano and sounding not unlike Harry Chapin fronting Granddaddy as a harmonica wails over a bittersweet ballad.
The mood then lightens and the tempo certainly picks up to a Country trot on Fireflies, with Schmauss’s voice sounding very emotional as a young lady provides very sensual harmonies in the background.
When I first played this a fortnight ago I remember, pursing my lips and nodding along to that last song and then performing air-piano on the next; Bullet, which is something I haven’t done for a long time.
That ‘far flung romanticism’ comes to the fore on several songs, especially Nighthawks which is a delightful left turn with a clever lyrical twist and L’il Mikey Mountain which takes us on a quite dark journey that I wasn’t expecting.
Because I know No Coward Soul are British or at least based here; the sound they have is not like anyone else on the scene I’m aware of; as instead of going for a West Coast Soft-Rock trip or the more fashionable Byrdsian twin guitar sound; No Coward Soul are treading their very own path in a quite arcane fashion.
This is certainly ‘Americana’ but of a more curious persuasion with sings like Orpheus and Belly of the Whale harking back to the more literate works that prevailed among 1960’s and 70’s singer-songwriters and left us scratching our heads in our teenage bedrooms.
But there is also more than a smattering of straightforward American influenced Pop-Rock with 654, Holy Toledo and probably more than everything else Death n Texas reminding me of bands like Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants, as Schmauss and friends use melodies and bouncy tunes to ease you into a false sense of security but make you need to decipher the words too.

Just to be contrary I’d have preferred the short title track The Almanac to have started or closed proceedings as it’s a Film-Noir style poetic talk-over, rather than a song and would work perfectly well as an intro or exit, rather than being tucked away in the middle.
For an album that was initially difficult to ‘get into’ It’s been a joy on some recent late night drives home in the sultry midnight heat; with one song in particular capturing my attention; so the curious and Gospel tinged Gotta Believe becomes my Favourite Song.
This album won’t be for everyone as it’s a ‘grower’ and there aren’t any ‘radio hits’ to catch your attention. This is a good old fashioned Long Player that demands your full attention from start to finish; but, that said; don’t be surprised if by some quirk of fate that No Coward Soul go on to take the mantle from the likes of Coldplay or Snow Patrol; stranger things have happened!

Released 14th 2018
http://www.nocowardsoul.co.uk/

 

Liz Frame & The Kickers SPARROW IN A SHOEBOX

liz frame vv

Liz Frame & The Kickers
SPARROW IN A SHOEBOX
Opt Records

File Under Country, Folk and Americana.

If I’m being perfectly honest I struggled to get my head around this album when I first received it; not that there was anything wrong with it, just that I needed a fix of louder music…..Bluesy stuff to make my feet move and my heart skip a beat.
That said; I always knew I’d come back as there was something in the way Liz Frame sings plus the songs themselves sounded like I needed to listen deeper than I was capable of at that time.
Now I’m ready to kick back and let Liz Frame and the Kickers win my heart and soul without much of a fight.
The title track Sparrow in a Shoebox is the first thing you’ll hear and if you’re not careful it will make you go weak at the knees. A delightful mix of Rootsy Country and classy Folk music; I was instantly reminded of those early Mary Chapin Carpenter records I still cherish and perhaps even Nanci Griffith in the way Liz both writes and sings.
In a good way there’s a little bit of everything here; from the gutsy Folk and Roll of Lookin’ For a Lonely Man which really showcases Patrick Chamberlin’s guitar skills; through the the heartbreaking Tex-Mex ballad Ungrateful Girl and coming out the other end with a gentle Rocker for people of a certain age, Grown Children; which will have fans tapping their toes to the melody while nodding along in agreement to Frame’s very perceptive lyrics.
In between the band slip and slide seamlessly between Grown Up Country song What You Gonna Do When I’m Gone? and the intense Little Brown House; which again will tug at the heartstrings until you fall under the Boston songwriter’s spell.
Now I’m sitting in the sunshine wallowing in this delightful discovery; two songs really, really stand out and therefore tie for the Favourite Song Award; the deceptively simple She’s Made of Light and Love is one of those songs that will spin your brain as it unravels each and every time you hear it.
The other is I Used To Be Your Slave; and again Liz and the band mask a harrowing tale with a jaunty tune; but the message hear is much clearer as she takes the role of a woman leaving an abusive relationship.
SPARROW IN A SHOEBOX just like those early albums by Nanci, Lucinda, Mary and Emmylou could easily be filed under both Country and Folk but more likely these days under Americana; with fans of all stylea finding plenty to like and indeed love here.
Let’s just hope it’s not another 7 years wait for the third album from Liz Frame and the Kickers; as that’s how long her fans have waited since her debut in 2011.

Released 8th June 2018
https://www.lizframeandthekickers.com/

Gretchen Peters DANCING WITH THE BEAST

gretchen peters ax

Gretchen Peters
DANCING WITH THE BEAST
Proper Records

Beauty in the Darkness of Sad Songs and Taboo Subjects.

It’s funny how you discover an artist isn’t it? Sometimes it’s a song on the radio, occasionally an advert will catch your attention or more likely for you it will be one of my amazing reviews; but for me and Gretchen Peters I still treasure the DIY Best Of CD my mate John created for me many years ago even though the last three tracks no longer play and I actually own the original albums the tracks come from.
Leap forward 10 years or so and I’ve found myself wallowing in the miserable beauty of her latest album for several weeks now; desperately keeping its majesty a secret from the rest of the world until now; the week of release.
When you get to our age (we ere born only a couple of weeks apart) a lot has already happened in your life and suddenly a lot of people around you, loved ones and friends begin to get seriously ill and regularly die; as happened to Gretchen in 2017; leaving her in the depths of despair and add to that a Presidency that goes against everything she has stood for and campaigned against all through her adult life nearly brought her to her knees.
But; when you are an amazingly talented and Award winning songwriter it all gets stowed away until the day you can write it all down and set it to music…….hence DANCING WITH THE BEAST.
As regular readers will already know I’ve publicly battled my own Demons in recent years so the first time I heard opening song Arguing With Ghosts (and again last week) I found myself weakly smiling as tears ran down my cheeks. If I started quoting individual lines from this song about the sadness and loneliness felt after the death of a loved one I would end up posting the whole bloody song.
Then of course we have Gretchen’s ghostly approach to delivering this Modern Gothic Classic over a gentle piano and soft string section while the drummer sounds like only the shadows of the sticks are touching the skins.
Oddly enough; this song ties with one other as the RMHQ Favourite here.
Phew; onto the rest………
While still sad, this story is oddly scary to the core; Wichita which follows is a lot more upbeat and takes us into Dark Country Territory; and shows what an amazing imagination this particular songwriter has. By the way, it’s very unlikely you will ever hear this song on the radio; but don’t be surprised if it turned up on the soundtrack to some gruesome Murder Movie some time in the future.
Even though this is a particulary Dark album; there is still plenty of shade in the way the songs are created and the almost Classical tunes (think Bach and Dvorak) that accompany them.
The Show is a prime example, opening with some stark piano and Gretchen sounding like she’s holding back tears as she sings ‘Freight Train plays a major Southern Chord/sign across the street says Praise The Lord/hotel coffee tastes likes kerosene/Yet I fell as happy as I’ve ever been.’
As she herself says, “Sad songs make me happy” ….. me too.
There are plenty of ‘big songs’ included here that will get a lot of well deserved attention like Disappearing Act and The Boy From Rye instantly spring to mind; but there are a couple of hidden gems too; with Lay Low being something every musician in the world can associate with and possibly only Lucinda Williams would dare to write a song like Truckstop Angel such is the taboo subject of a drug addicted prostitute; but hey……..it’s truly magnificent and will stop you in your tracks just like a Hi Lux fired up on nitro would.
Before I get onto my other Favourite Song, I can’t not mention the title track Dancing With The Beast; another delicate heart-to-heart song about a taboo subject; as Gretchen takes the role of a woman in an abusive relationship and a song so intense and beautiful it surely must follow Blackbirds into the Winners Enclosure at the Grammy Awards.
Lowlands too is a brooding Country pot-boiler about a break-up and the loneliness that follows, primarily for women, and again Gretchen inhabits the soul of a woman in such a position in a way I can’t think any other singer-songwriter can.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Ben Glover’s new album and highlighted his co-write Say Grace with Gretchen Peters; and mentioned it appeared here too. There’s not a lot to choose between either version; but both singer’s distinctive voices bring a little extra ‘something’ out of an extraordinary set of words and an almost Mystical and Celtic tune.
Now, you may well ask how can any song be better than any of those last few songs and actually be good enough to tie with Arguing With Ghosts for the world renowned accolade of RMHQ Favourite title?
Well; the song that closes the album, Love That Makes a Cup of Tea is an intricately complex story masquerading as a simple Country-Folk song that her fans adore Gretchen Peters for and goes to show that no matter how dark you feel your life is; and we all get to feel that way some time…….True Love, a cup of tea and someone asking and meaning “How are you doing?” Gets you through even the most difficult of times. #FACT
So far 2018 is proving a spectacular year for the eclectic swathe of music we like at RMHQ but this particular album will certainly feature in our end of year Top 10; and will sit proudly in that ‘special box’ for those nights I need to wallow in the mud with someone who knows what it’s like to suffer the mental torture of depression.

Released May 18th 2018

http://www.gretchenpeters.com/