Jess & The Bandits
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Dancetastic and Thought Provoking Modern Country Music.
After discovering them a few years ago at SummerTyne Festival I have to confess to loving Jess & The Bandits and their the poppier variety of Country Music.
Their 2015 debut album HERE WE GO AGAIN is still a staple in Mrs. Magpie’s car and a pleasure to listen to if you ever drives me anywhere.
So has their sound developed in the intervening years?
The ever smiling Texan, Jessica Clemmons sounds breathless on opening track the almost evangelical I’m Still Not Going Home, which could be the band’s signature tune as she throws down a marker to the rest of the young upstarts on the circuit at the moment; especially the current wave of Brit-Country bands.
Oh Dear Lord, the title track which comes in at #2 is as close to a Classic Country belter as anything I’ve heard in donkey’s years, with Jess using her magnificent voice to full effect as a choir gives it everything behind her.
There is certainly something here for everyone as the band can Rock the boots off a Country tune with the hit single Kings of Summer, and their mellower side on the ballads Gone Girl and Already Written will reduce even the hardest heart to mush.
The changes come through subtly on a couple of very contemporary songs; the anthemic Start a War; about a lady standing up for herself in an abusive relationship and Game Changer which closes the record; shows the potential for a Stevie Nicks type direction in the future.
Not for the first (or last) time Mrs. Magpie disagree on what the best or favourite track is here.
She has gone for Kiss Me Quiet, with it’s echoes of Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood the way Jess purrs out the powerful lyrics.
Me? I’ve gone for White Lies; a timeless heart breaking tale of cheatin’, lyin’ and lovin’ that Jess and the Bandits tightly wrapped sound, makes you feel like it’s the only time this has ever happened before; which is exactly how that must feel when you’ve been cheated on.
While this is certainly on the Commercial end of the music spectrum that I adore; Jess Clemmon’s compelling voice and the Bandit’s impressive Country playing coupled with Jess’s mature and occasionally gut-wrenching songwriting show a band on the cusp of Stardom.
Released 15th September 2017
My Darling Clementine
Continental Song City
Our Favourite Husband & Wife Tear Up The Country Duet Rule Book!!
While a host of giddy young things are being hailed in the national media as either being the ‘saviours’ or even ‘inventors’ of British Country Music, Michael Weston King has been consistently releasing albums that defy the title ‘British’; and in the last few years alongside wife Lou Dalgleish has released three nigh perfect Country Duet albums and the collaboration with crime writer Mark Billingham created a whole new Country-Noir genre.
Still with a Country Heart, this latest release from My Darling Clementine shuffles the cards like a magician taking their now distinctive sound into it’s very own musical stratosphere.
I actually went ‘Ooooooooohhhh’ when the opening stanzas to first track Embers and Flames oozed out of the car speakers. What a way to capture the attention…….a great 60’s big band feel to the rhythm section, but red hot and bittersweet lyrics for the couple to spit out at each other as their relationship fizzles out like a spectacular firework always does; and the song contains my favourite saddest line ever “And the bedroom’s just for sleeping”. Oh dear…..that lyric hurts more than any other.
This followed by a Lou Dalgleish penned song, Eugene where Lou takes the lead and Michael tells his part from the shadows as a mournful brass band add just enough pathos to keep you from crying; but only just.
Two songs in and I was hooked like a musical heroin addict.
Oh Dear Lord I won’t forget the first time I heard Jolene’s Song…… another song from Lou’s pen; where she takes the place of the original Jolene and the resulting song has been worth the 50 year wait!
While listening to the sharp as a tack There’s Nothing That You Can Tell Me (That I Don’t Already Know) I was reminded of the Beautiful South, then the penny dropped that Paul Heaton’s Countryish album last year with Jacqui Abbott completely ripped off My Darling Clementine! Fancy that….and the track is a humdinger too btw.
My Darling Clementine have never been your ordinary duo/band; as they are very theatrical in everything they do or perform, with each and every story conjuring up Technicolour images to go with the song. Friday Night/Tulip Hotel; a tale of sad infidelity is a perfect example and the jaunty Tear Stained Smile is just the same with the listener picturing the singers playing out their roles while tapping the toes at the same time.
Two Lane Texaco fits that description too; but this inspired tale of a decaying small town somewhere in rural America demands that the video would be in sepia.
Mrs. Magpie is a fan too and after playing the album while doing the ironing last weekend she decided that Yours Is The Cross That I Still Bear; a Soulful story about a couple ‘going through the motions’ was her favourite song; while I went for the out and out love song…..Since I Fell For You. But then again, I’ve always been a soppy romantic and the line “Now I stand by by your side/I understand the Sin of Pride” should be tattooed across my heart.
I love the way Michael and Lou aren’t prepared to ‘go through the motions’ with their music and are prepared to push their own boundaries to create something vibrant and exciting, without alienating their core fans.
Released June 2nd 2017
Turn Left at Janis, Then Right at Lucinda and Go Straight Past Loretta.
How do they do it? Bloodshot Records I mean. They keep finding acts that I just need to listen to.
On the album cover Sarah Shook from North Carolina has the look of the only girl at school who had both the Clash and Johnny Cash albums and knew all the words too.
The quaintly titled Keep The Home Fires Burning is a raw slice of Country with a Rockabilly beat, and Sarah sounding just the right side of angry, sings as if she’s defying the listener not to like her. But if like me you know the really ‘good stuff’ doesn’t come out of those shiny building in Nashville you will like it; despite her sneer.
Sarah Shook doesn’t look old enough to have had all of the heartbreak that she writes and sings about[ but that’s the joy as she has one helluva imagination as expressed in the fiery No Name and later in Solitary Confinement when she sounds like Patsy Cline on steroids, “drinking him off her mind!”
Bloodshot used to describe itself as the ‘Home of Resurgent Country’ and boy does this young lady live up to that billing on songs like Nothin’ Feels Right Like Doing Wrong and the Punky Country Rock of Misery Without Company; and I love the way the rebellious singer is going to Make It Up To Mama by getting another ‘heart tattoo’!
As a man of a certain age I don’t normally like profanity in music; but the way Sarah describes her life – she could be the offspring of a late night relationship between Janis and George Jones; Fuck Up is the only title imaginable; and I’m pretty damn sure it will be the sing-along highlight of their concerts.
Highlights are too many to list but I will give you two songs as my favourites; the title track Sidelong is as dark a Country song as I’ve heard in years, with Snook sounding on the verge of tears at times on a wonderful piece of writing.
The other is along a similar dark romantic path; but Dwight Yoakam is about that period when that relationship is just about still hanging by a thread; “I’m drinking water tonight cuz I drank all the whiskey this morning”(“Dwight Yoakam”) pretty damn fine writing in my opinion.
Many years ago there used to be a band on Bloodshot with leather jackets, tattoos and quiffs called the Riptones who opened the Rockabilly door for me. They took what the Stray Cats did, but stripped it back to the bone and added kerosene……and now Sarah Shook and the Disarmers have taken up that mantel with a vengeance; and I can’t wait to see them play live in a hot and sweaty club.
Released April 28th 2017
Thirty Tigers/Cooking Vinyl
The New King of Laid Back Country Strikes Again.
In the last couple of years there’s been a slew of new, young Stetson wearing Country singer-songwriters; at the very least some are ‘good’ but a couple, and I count Sam Outlaw as one ….are truly exceptional, as his 2015 debut ANGELENO proved.
Less than two years later he returns with more of the same; but with added maturity and occasionally ‘edge’ to his writing.
Throwing us the first curve ball Sam goes deep, really deep on opening track the sweepingly atmospheric Everyone’s Looking For Home. A slow burner of a ballad finds Sam Outlaw in a very dark place, and the inclusion of an almost funereal sounding Mariachi band adds an extra dimension to an already beautiful song.
Bottomless Mimosas, which follows is one of those songs that make you go “OOOOOHHHH!” when you here it. The gentle guitars, strummed bass and the tsch-tsch of the drums eventually melt behind Outlaw’s softly expressive voice and when the (now cheery) Mariachi band drift in the world and its troubles all drift away into the sunset. What’s not to like?
Outlaw lays his ‘feelings’ out on the line for all to see and dissect on several songs here with She’s Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of) and the Modern Classic that is Now She Tells Me gently squeezing your heartstrings until you gasp for breath.
In real life Sam Outlaw is in a very happy and stable relationship; but boy can he write a tearjerker! Diamond Ring and Two Broken Hearts are both the type of Country songs you pray to hear on FM radio, but never do because Music Row don’t write ’em like this any-more…..but Sam Outlaw does.
When it comes to selecting a ‘favourite track’ I don’t set any parameters; you don’t do you? Music doesn’t work that way…….the best songs just ‘touch you’ for no reason that makes sense.
Here I finally pulled it back to three songs…..the album is so good it could be any actually; with the odd subject matter of Bougainvillea, I Think being an extraordinary song and beautiful with it. Sam looks back to his late teenage years when he would sit and ‘drink beers and chat’ with his matronly next door neighbour neighbour, whose name and the ‘flower she would wear’ he can no longer remember. Not a tale of love (lost or unrequited) just a woman with lots of life stories he once knew who is slowly being erased from his memory as he himself grows older. Quite delightful.
The title track TENDERHEART does what a title track should do; encapsulate what the album is all about and this one does it with grace and style. A cleverly worded song with a gorgeous melody and is as Country as Country gets these days.
But, as the shuffle mode on my I-Phone has been trying to tell me the award goes to All My Life. Compared to the rest it’s quite a simple love song (the best ones always are) Sam tells us that he’s travelled the world ‘looking for a wife’ and there she was in his home town all along! It’s a bit of a Romeo and Juliet theme as my favourite line suggests “We are still to young/and your father owns a gun/I think you are just the girl to make me settle down.”
It’s a fun little ditty with a razor sharp sense of humour and Outlaw’s trademark worldly wise observations in every line…..all coupled with a classy melody too. A WINNER.
The album closes with another sad heartbreaker, Look At You Now and as it fades to the groove you will take a deep breath, sigh and either press Play or turn your disc over to side 1 again and drop the needle onto track #1 and before you know it it will be 3AM and you haven’t gone to bed.
Country Music comes in many shapes and formats, and I pretty much love all of it but on a long sunny day nothing beats slipping on a Jimmy Buffett, Lyle Lovett or perhaps Don Gibson and now we can add Sam Outlaw to that list.
Released April 14th 2017
Landmark Album For Country’s Wagonmaster.
While I wouldn’t say I was a ‘fan’ of Jim Lauderdale, I do own three albums that I still play occasionally and when I had my radio show would play the occasional track, and at least twice as the subject of requests; so I was thrilled last week when this, his latest release dropped onto the hall carpet.
Opening track Sweet Time is a delightful Country shuffle in the mode of someone like Charly Pride or Vince Gill; and it wouldn’t take too much of a leap to imagine any of today’s ‘Hat Acts’ covering in a bid to add authenticity to an album. The title London Southern comes from Lauderdale recording he disc in the Goldstar Studios in London, England with his friend Nick Lowe’s band and when you know that; you can hear a slightly different tone to Lauderdale’s regular approach on songs like the stunning Different Kind of Groove Sometimes and Mrs. Magpie’s favourite song here, What Have You Got to Lose with its sumptuous background harmonies.
Tucked away towards the end of the album is deep and meaningful song; when Jim gives us a full throated Country warble, along with some Memphis style soulful trumpet and sax…..I Can’t Do Without You is trademark Lauderdale but somehow as fresh as a daisy too.
The Twangtastic Don’t Shut Me Down and You Came to Get Me will both make feet all around the world get the urge to dance, and show that Lauderdale can still write great songs in any style he desires.
It’s fascinating to realise that this songwriters-songwriter isn’t afraid of a challenge; as shown by the choice of co-writers on a couple of songs included here, not only has he wrote two with the legendary Dan Penn but another pair with the ‘Blue Eyed Soul’ star John Oates and it’s one of those If I Can’t Resist; which reminded me of Wicked Game by Chris Isaak; and certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.
Love songs come at you from all directions on this record; but the late night piano, heart stopping double bass and sweeping strings that accompanying a crooning Jim Lauderdale on I Love You More just melted my heart the first time I heard it and there’s been a tiny tear in the corner of my eye each subsequent play. I’m not aux fait with every song he has ever written; but I doubt he’s ever written one more beautiful, making this easily my favourite song here.
It’s shameful to discover that after 27 previous albums and too many hits for other stars too numerous to mention spread over a career spanning 27+ years that legendary songwriter Jim Lauderdale’s solo albums have only ever troubled the Country Music Charts twice; and then only at #47 & #67!
Will London Southern fare any better? Who knows; but if I’m any judge I’m pretty sure it will go Top 10 in the UK AMA Charts pretty damn soon after release; showing what great taste British Country Music fans have 😉
Released February 3rd 2017
The Backyard Devils
Honky Tonk Heartbreaker
Just Add Cold Beer and Whisky For a Perfect Saturday Night.
I guess it was the cover art that caught my eye last week when I was looking for something to play while I did the ironing (honest!) and after five or six songs I actually found myself doing an involuntary two-step!
The 90 mph Twang-attack that opens track #1 Rambling had me raising my eyebrows and when Erik Arsenault’s gravelly, road-worn voice kicked in I knew I was going to love this album…..let that be a lesson kids; Cover Art and the first track is ‘still all important.’
On paper there’s not a lot different between The Backyard Devils and 99 other Hillbilly/Bluegrass/Old-Timey bands I receive music from; but the joyous way this band sound on the break-up songs, especially The Stanley Brothers’ How Mountain Girls Can Love and their own Pack Your Bags makes for a very special group of musicians indeed.
The musicianship here is outstanding from start to finish; but I must congratulate the Devils themselves and George Belliveau for the razor sharp production that highlights every single instrument without ever overshadowing the vocals.
Somehow; and this is the magic that a great songwriter can create, songs like Gospel, All I Want to Do and the lonely heartbreaking ballad Feeling Stoned instantly sound like you’ve known them all your life; although they were all written just for this album.
For Sons of Canada these guys manage to out-Country most Americans I know on
For what it’s worth I don’t think there are nearly enough Truck Driving songs in Country Music these days; but the Devils rectify that wrong with two absolute belters…..Hard Times is as good as anything I’ve heard since Commander Cody made Truck Driving sound sexy; and then Scott H Biram’s aptly named Truck Driver had me smiling and (mentally) punching the air on every chorus.
Baring in mind where Country Music comes from I can’t remember the last time I heard a Cowboy song; and yet again that wrong is righted here with the sadly romantic Cowboy; which is certainly a contender for ‘favourite track’ and could also be great funeral song; but don’t tell Mrs. Magpie!
Oh Lordy Lord! If there is a TV producer out there considering making a programme in the vein of The Dukes of Hazard I’ve found the theme tune for you…..and the story therein has all the hallmarks for the script of the first episode……Bernie Mountain Sinners is that very song and you will love it too; trust me.
I’ve I’ve raved about all of these songs, my ‘favourite song’ must be special, mustn’t it? Hell yes! I’m So Easy is….well…..I think I once met the girl he falls in love with; but I managed to escape her clutches…..and what a cool tune too.
There you have it; an intoxicating mix of Bluegrass, Honky-Tonkin’ Country and a smattering of fancy dan Rockabilly ……..what’s not to like……some days I love my job!
Released UK 20th February 2017
Released Canada 17th Dec 2014
The Best of the Dualtone Years
A Consummate Collection Of A Master’s Latter Years.
Guy Clark? Where do I start? On a recommendation from the owner, a retrospective of his early recordings (priced £5.99) was one of the first Americana CD’s I ever bought in the long gone Goldrush Records, Perth Scotland and proved not to be just a gateway into his work, but that of Townes, Rodney, Nanci and Steve Earle….. and the rest is history.
By the time Guy signed for Dualtone Records in 2005 he was something of a ‘forgotten man’ and the industry probably presumed his best years were long gone.
As this retrospective of the Dualtone recordings proves…..how wrong they were!
This perfectly balanced Double Album opens with Rain in Durango, then saunters through Hemingway’s Whisky and My Favourite Picture of You……PHEW……find me a songwriter in the last 20 years who has wrote a better song than any of those three and I will be surprised….and remember this was meant to be the ‘tail end’ of Clark’s career!
Since his death in 2016 he has been mentioned a lot in the Press Releases I receive as an ‘inspiration’ and occasionally a ‘mentor’ for many much younger singer-songwriters; and you can hear and feel why that would be the way he couples simple observations with a beautiful way with words on songs like Out In The Parking Lot and Tornado Time in Texas to draw the listener in and keep them entranced.
Not a young man when he recorded Cornmeal Waltz but his voice sounds timeless and almost ethereal as he recalls the heady nights of his youth…….and I pretty much guess that there was a twinkle in his eye whenever he sang it.
For younger listeners there’s even the addition of four of his earlier/classic songs with The Cape, Dublin Blues, L. A. Freeway and the quirky Homegrown Tomatoes from his 2011 Songs & Stories album……which is well worth checking out for the stories alone.
As the vast majority of existing Guy Clark fans will already have the four albums these songs are culled from the ‘carrot’ for them is the inclusion of three previously unreleased songs.
I’m normally cautious about such things; but all three ‘demos’ fit in perfectly with what has gone before, with the first being the simple and haunting Just To Watch Maria Dance, then a co-write with Hal Ketchum The Last Hobo but Time, a collaboration with Marty Stuart shows that not all the good songs made it onto disc.
I could push a pin into the track list and tell you that song was my favourite; but I will point new readers to two songs that encapsulate everything I love in Guy Clark’s writing and singing.
As a master-craftsman who spent many long days making…..no creating handmade guitars, The Guitar is a love song that only a true musician could write and his attention to minutiae is astonishing; as is his own guitar playing.
The other is one of the ‘live recordings’; The Cape …….”A song about jumping off a garage” as Clark introduces it is…..well, just you go and find it and tell me you didn’t have tears in your eyes too.
Guy Clark will be sorely missed; but his legacy lives on in these songs and others; all of which will be studied and played for decades to come.
RELEASED March 3rd 2017
Edward & Graham
Menomonee Road (Single)
This arrived over night and has been a fixture on the RMHQ turntable all day.
With a joint background so bizarre it defies description…..(one of them was in a Metal band!) Johnny Edward and Evan Graham Dunn have discovered the Alternative side of Country music and come out of the traps like a rocket with this single/song.
Another track is promised for March and an album….some time later.
released 20th Jan 2017
Spinefarm Records/EMI Nashville
Mainstream Nashville Country with Added Edge and Grace.
In the maelstrom of albums that arrived a few weeks ago this nearly got lost, until I saw the nominations for the Grammys Country Single and saw the name Brothers Osborne!
So, it was hauled from the box I now hide albums in from Mrs Magpie and put it in the player while buying about the house this morning…..basically doing the ironing!
Mmmmmm….opening track Dirt Rich opens with some neat banjo and the brothers voices harmonise as only siblings can on a really neat song that transcends what I recognise as mainstream Country; sounding more like something I would associate with Yep Roc or Bloodshot Records.
Their second single (2014) Rum gets off to a bit of a raggedy false start and is all the better for it; and the song itself is the type of ‘Summery’ track I used to play on my old radio show a few years ago.
In the light of the current political ‘situation’ I was a bit nervous the first time I heard American Crazy; but while it’s still ‘blue collar’ in essence it’s a lot more fun and even innocent than I’d feared; owing a lot more to Bruce Springsteen that Toby Keith I’m pleased to say.
Interestingly, that song is followed by the snappy Greener Pastures, a classy Country ‘break up’ song in all its glory; featuring some red hot pedal steel in the middle 8.
The Brothers tread a very fine line a couple of times; falling just short of Pop Country on It Ain’t My Fault and Down Home; by adding some crunchy guitars and some deeply smart lyrics which had me lip-synching to on only the second listen.
Title track Pawn Shop is very nearly socio-political; detailing in words and deeds why many people are buying and selling their earthly goods just to get by these days; and the slide guitar throughout will cut your heartstrings to shreds too.
Young and good looking The Brother Osborne and with classy ‘love songs’ like Heart Shaped Locket, 21 Summer and the duet with Lee Ann Womack, Loving Me Back are a perfect fit for the current resurgence in Country music; especially among ‘young people.’
My copy includes three ‘bonus tracks’ with the sparse ballad Love The Lonely Out of You being quite extraordinary in the way it sounds; coming right out of left field to punch you in the heart.
The album closes with another ‘bonus track’ and one that competes for ‘favourite track’……Arms of Fire is the type of song that will stop you dead in your tracks when you hear it on the radio.
But, the song that caught my immediately caught my attention is the Hit Single and Grammy Nominated Stay a Little Longer. With a booty-scootin’ beat, love/lost/love theme and a harmony vocal to die for…..what’s not to like?
Who knows what the future holds for The Brothers Osborne? But this album is a refreshing change from the Country RAWK that has been prominent in Nashville for the last few years; with a wide variety of melodies (remember them), stories and timeless vocal performances from start to finish.
UK Release 8th February 2017
US Release 25th January 2017
Too Much is Never Enough
Broody and Toe-Tappin’ Outlaw Country At It’s Best.
This has been sitting around the RMHQ offices for far too long now, without me writing words about it; especially as it keeps forcing itself into the CD player without being asked.
Californian AJ Hobbs has released two previous EP’s, one under the pseudonym Cal King, but this is his first full length Album and without giving too much away…..is bloody excellent!
The title track Too Much is Never Enough kick starts the CD like a Ford Bronco on a red hot Saturday night. Hobbs has the kind of slightly rough edged voice that lends itself perfectly to this type of Country music and his band sound as if they having the time of their life behind him on a song about a man’s ‘battle with the bottle.’
The Ford Bronco analogy is pretty nigh perfect for what follows too; Hobbs paces the songs perfectly with a few deeply personal ballads like the slow and atmospheric Tomorrow I’ll Be Hurtin’ and A Whole Lot of You and Me riding shotgun to up-tempo dance tunes like Are You Going to Tennessee and the title song from that first EP and no doubt a show-stopper…..Shit Got Real.
Even before you bought the album, a cursory peak at the track listing will point you in the right direction when you see titles like Waylon & Merle and of course The Bottle Let Me Down.
While the whole album more than merits being played over and over again; a couple of tracks have certainly caught Mrs. Magpie and my attention; with both Daddy Loved The Lord and Take It Slow making us sing ‘harmonies’ alongside AJ Hobbs; but thankfully not in public.
That said; and it’s probably because I’m an old romantic I’m going for the gorgeous and fiery Life Without You as my favourite track here.
It’s fair to say Country Music like this never went away; no matter what the good people on Music Row and the radio stations would have you believe. Dale Watson has been a flag-bearer with his ‘Ameripolitan’ take on the genre and over the last couple of years there’s been a hatful of albums from the likes of Frankie Lee, Sam Outlaw, Sturgill Simpson and of course our very own Ags Connolly; all reviewed very positively on these pages and AJ Hobbs is every inch the ‘real deal’ and sits shoulder to shoulder with all of those guys; as well as the originators that they all listened to in their bedrooms.
Released 17th February 2017