Ashley Monroe Sparrow (Acoustic Sessions) Warner Music Nashville
Brave, Honest and Raw Reworkings of Her Hit Songs.
Where to start? To coincide with her Sold Out (mini) UK and European Tour Ashley Monroe is releasing this ‘digital only’ astonishing acoustic reworking of 5 songs from the ‘Hit Album’ Sparrow ; as if it was actually necessary……. but thankfully she has. I really liked Sparrow; but Mrs Magpie loves it beyond words, and when I drove her car last week it was back in the CD player; and last December she was on the verge of not speaking to me when it didn’t make my Top 20 albums of 2018. Although there really were more worthy albums for me last year; my one criticism was the ‘big production’ that is the hallmark of Nashville these days; and what I think of as a ‘wrong’ has now been ‘righted’ here. None more so than the first song Orphan; which to some degree I’d actually forgot but in this version with Ashley’s amazing voice somehow sounding even more haunting as a piano, violin and cello bring out the story and words like a chilly January wind. The tragic Hands on You with only Ashley, an acoustic guitar with some occasional violin flourishes follows, and sent a shiver down my spine the first time I played it; and when Mrs. Magpie was listening the other night she turned to me and nodded (which I think means more than a Grammy Award). Perhaps it’s because I like the simpler things in life that these stripped back to the bare bone songs have taken on a new lease of life for me. The ‘hit single’ Wild Love now sounds like something you would turn to after midnight on Friday night when it’s all gone wrong and you are feeling very, very sorry for yourself…….. and you only have the energy to press ‘repeat play’ every three minutes. The original Paying Attention has become a bit of a favourite of mine; and here it becomes a really stark and even borderline Gothic Tale as the acoustic guitar gets strummed so angrily you half expect a string to snap; and whoa, whoa and thrice whoa……. the cello lives up to it’s reputation as an instrument of darkness too. The only surprise in Ashley Monroe being signed to Warner Brothers is that she is signed to Warner Brothers! From first discovering her via LIKE A ROSE in 2013 she has always struck me as a driven character who does things her way; or no way……. which isn’t kinda how the big labels like to work. With that in mind this EP is something of a brave decision for both singer and label; as in this setting there isn’t anywhere to hide; not that Ashley would ever dream of doing such a thing when it comes to her singing; and all of that dangerous magic combines on what is the RMHQ Favourite Song here; the bitterly raw and honest Keys to the Kingdom; which was my Favourite on the original and here finds Ms Monroe sounding like the great singer; and indeed songwriter she has always been destined to be. I doubt this will find it’s way into Mrs. Magpies car; but more than likely it will inhabit that special shelf on the rack for albums that will take me to a ‘special place’ as and when I need them.
Scorching Set of New, Old and Truly Authentic Country Songs.
Think about this for a minute; how come a man who was at the forefront of what we now know as *Ameripolitan or whatever we are calling ‘Real Country’ these days, is having to fund his latest album via his fans on IndieGoGo? Mercifully Jason Ringenberg doesn’t let such things worry him too much; he just ‘Keeps on Keeping on’; playing gigs wherever and whenever he can; albeit as himself, or with The Scorchers or more likely as his alter-ego Farmer Jason; for which the music world owes him an enormous debt. I’m a fan, by the way. Enough of that……. ‘give me the lowdown on the music’ I hear you ask. Oddly, for a singer-songwriter album, the title track, which opens the album, Stand Tall is a glorious instrumental, well worthy of a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood soundtrack, and features our hero in the heady mix somewhere, while the band conjure up Technicolour images of the Old West. ‘That’ distinctive and definitive Country voice comes out of the speakers like a Tennessee storm a moment later on Looking Back Blues; which is as Country as Country gets in 2019 as Jason loosely sings about life’s missed chances, with more rhymes than a children’s poet. That’s the beauty of this fellas songs; they can make you dance, sing and any old thing you want to when you hear John The Baptist Was a Real Humdinger or John Muir Stood Here or more likely his remembrance of the time the Nashville Scorchers supported The Ramones on a month long tour of Texas in ’82 on God Bless The Ramones. What a way with words and music this guy has! This, dear reader is exactly where Country and Punk collided to beget Cow Punk. As per usual not everything here is 99 mph; Ringenberg can break your heart into smithereens with his delicate ballads; and Here in the Sequoias is the perfect antidote to the whiz-bang songs that surround it. Long term fans will always expect a drinking song from Mr Ringenberg; and Many Happy Hangovers To You sounds like it’s destined to be included in any future sets by the Scorchers; and if/when it does expect a full house to know every single word and extol them with ecstatic force and glee. If you’ve ever seen Ringenberg play you will know his pre-ambles are often as entertaining as the songs themselves; plus you will realise he’s a well read young man too, which brings us to I’m Walking Home, about a teenager who was virtually kidnapped to join the Confederate Army; but it’s the tiny details in each verse, coupled to a superb Celtic-Military tune that make this song stand out from just about everything else I’ve heard from this era; and I’ve heard a lot! As a fan-boy I am pre-programmed to love absolutely everything that Jason Ringenberg has ever recorded; but even I can still be surprised by his undoubted talent and story-telling, which brings me to two wonderful songs that must tie for the title of RMHQ Favourite Song. Bob Dylan’s Farewell Angelina is a stunningly beautiful song that had my heart twisted in knots the first two times I heard it; and now two weeks later it’s still unravelling to reveal even more depth to a magnificent tale. The other is a theme Jason has touched on before; but on his exquisite version of Jimmie Rodger’s Hobo Bill’s Last Ride he dips into the Country Music play book and comes out with an absolute tearjerker, which doesn’t just include a classy melody but finds our hero regaling us with a yodel or two, too! For a man who thought his music career was over after losing his muse; and thinking he’d lost his fan base……. this album is setting the bar very high indeed for everyone else in 2019!
Even Rolling Stone once said of Jason and the Scorchers “they single handedly re-wrote the history of rock’n’roll in the South”
SONGS FROM THE DELUGE
Free Dirt Records
The Classy Country Soundtrack For Saturday Night Somewhere.
I’ve been aware of the three constituent parts of Western Centuries for a couple of years now; but to call Cahalen Morrison, Ethan Lawton and Jim Miller a ‘Honky-Tonk Supergroup’, as the Press Release does has to be a bit of a stretch, doesn’t it?
Whatever; let’s let the music they create speak for itself.
Opening track Far From Home is a bright and breezy Old-School Saturday night Country song……with a deep dark message. Listen beyond the toe-tapping accordion and lap-steel and you will find a razor sharp story about a Vietnam Vet still living in the margins. Class.
Oh man, oh man……the second song Earthly Justice just blew me away. It’s the type of Blue Collar Country song people think Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson made; but never did. This is the real deal and perfect for a Saturday night, somewhere.
My album doesn’t make it clear who wrote or sings what here; and it doesn’t matter as each member brings his own special magic to the songs and when they harmonise on the tale of addiction, Wild You Run and How Many More Miles to Babylon memories of the both the Everly Brothers AND Louvin Brothers spring to mind, which is quite some achievement.
It’s only when I hear perfectly constructed albums like this that I realise how much I hate the acts on the CMA Awards, as beautiful songs like Rocks and Flame and Clouds of Woes are as far from the Rawk and Squawk that those acts deliver as Country Music can get; and my life is all the more enriched because of acts like Western Centuries.
Don’t get me wrong I don’t hate Rock music and I don’t like every Old-Timey/Classic Country ensemble; but listening to this trio serenade us with Three Swallows makes me realise why I loved music in the first place.
Oh; the album actually closes with an actual Cowboy Song (of sorts) Warm Guns ……what’s not to like?
The Western Centuries are three completely contrasting voices and even writing styles; and each here has it’s own merits but one song above all others stands out, which means the Twangtastic Own Private Honky-Tonk wins the award of RMHQ Favourite Track, combining Rockabilly with Hill Music and adding a splash of Western Swing too makes for a doozy of a song that will not only get me mouthing the chorus but dancing too when I get to see them soon at Jumpin’ Hot Club in Newcastle.
The majority of music fans associate Country Music with Nashville or perhaps Austin; but The Western Centuries ain’t no manufactured Boy Band from either of those cities; this is real down home Honky-Tonk with it’s roots in Louisiana, Kentucky, Carolina and all those dying rural town off the Highway even though two members live in Seattle and the other NYC and will touch the hearts of everyone who lives there or similar towns across the world.
COME ON IN
Shed Music/Continental Record Services
Elegant Country Love Songs For the Very Sad and Lonely.
Where to start? Chris Comper aka Prinz Grizzley first got in touch with me in 2016 sending me his debut EP; which I loved and thought I’d reviewed…..but can’t find a copy any where. As happens he disappeared off my radar until a couple of weeks ago when the nice people from Continental Record Services got in touch rather excitedly raving about this ‘new’ Austrian Country influenced singer-songwriter……and it’s fair to say Chris/Prinz has spent the intervening two years immersing himself in the dark and lonely end of the Country street and honing his song-writing skills within an inch of his life.
The album starts with a delightfully sad lament called Wide Open Country; a wailing harmonica and pedal-steel link together over a slow waltz like beat as Grizzley bemoans his luck and the effect he has on the people around him.
Give Me One Reason follows; and you are instantly transported to a bar in a Nashville backstreet on a damp Tuesday night with only you and a handful of other losers in love watching the singer singing a song about ‘you’ and you alone. Yes; my friends Prinz Grizzley has the ability to reach deep inside your chest and squeeze your heartstrings with his words.
Things do perk up a little on Mountain’s Milk; a four to the floor toe-tapper that finds our singer fighting the urge to break into a yodel on the chorus; which was a relief at RMHQ.
Prinz’s nasally world weary voice is perfectly matched on the Townes Van Zandt/Guy Clark influenced Irene and I Can See Darkness; both of which show a writing talent in the ascendancy.
Okay; this album is on the darker end of the Country spectrum; but there’s plenty of us out there who appreciates songs about losing in love; sung by someone who sounds like he is actually living the hurt he portrays. Yes/No?
As I’ve been happily married for 40 years Mrs Magpie has never understood why I love Country songs like Personal Hell and Where’s Your Fire Gone (which sounds like a long lost Gram song btw) but every coin has two sides and while I’m happy on the outside; I do love to wallow in my own misery some nights and songs like these are the perfect soundtrack.
Which brings me to the award of ‘RMHQ Favourite Track’……at face value not easy; as this is an album that needs to be listened to and cherished in one complete sitting; but I absolutely adore Fiery Eyes; which ticks every box I have for a bitter sweet love song; especially the brass section that swings in every few lines as does that scintillating pedal-steel on a deeply personal song that just may be written about my feelings for my own beautiful wife.
It’s a very crowded market place for Americana/Country Music at the moment; and it may be all too easy for an Austrian Country singer-songwriter to disappear between the cracks; but that would be a shame of huge proportions as in Prinz Grizzley we have a glorious songwriter and singer who, alongside his band can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the currently feted ones in America, Canada or indeed the UK at the moment.
# For fans of Sturgill Simpson, Jarrod Dickenson and Danny & the Champions of the World.
Little Big Town
Sunday 1st October 2017
Tonight’s romantic liaison with Mrs Magpie was planned many months ago; but the rota at work was changed in Mid-September meaning I was meant to be working 4pm till midnight; so I had to pull out all of the stops to swap days off; which only got agreed 36 hours hours before ‘curtain up’!
Historically Country bands of the ilk of Little Big Town have totally ignored the UK and Europe, favouring the US of A to amass their fortunes; so it was no real surprise to see the Sold Out notice on the Sage website only two days after tickets came on sale.
The show opened with one of the hottest young songwriters in Nashville, Seth Ennis and his band.
Dressed casually in a grey sweatshirt, tight black jeans and Timberland boots he looked nothing like your typical Country star or even singer-songwriter; but then again I’m not his usual demographic judging by the screams from hundreds of young ladies at the start and end of each song.
The songs? Good…..really good at times; especially Fast Girl and Three which were just perfect for his slightly gritty Country croak.
Accompanied by the lad with a mohican on an acoustic guitar Ennis turned to a piano for Think & Drive; a ‘Broken-hearted 2am drunks song’ as he introduced it; and while I thought it needed filling out with the rest of the band; it still sounded a beautifully brittle story.
With a set lasting only 30 minutes Ennis wasted a good 5 minutes ‘chatting’ and ‘interacting’ (Who wants to paaaarrty??? etc), when he could easily have included another song; but HEY….what do I know; as he still got a standing ovation from around 50% of the downstairs audience! He was certainly ‘very alright’ bordering on good……but …..a standing ovation? Kids today!
After the thirty minute intermission; the stage set had hardly changed for the headline act which slightly baffled me; as I was half expecting a big ‘show’……but it appeared Little Big Town wanted their show to be all about ‘the songs’ and with hindsight; that’s no bad thing at all.
Hiding in the shadows, the backing band built up the already palpable tension in the room for nearly two minutes before Little Big Town made their appearance, swathed in blue lights creating an air of mystery for their opening song Night on Our Side; then with a minimum of fuss as the roar of approval died down the stage lights came on and the band slid seamlessly into Happy People and the front three rows immediately got to their feet as Karen and Kimberley slickly glad-handed people without missing a note.
This was very much the tone for the whole concert; bang, bang, bang…….song/applause/song/applause/song; with very little chit-chat in between…..the Hits just kept on coming; without any overpowering light-show or attention grabbing backdrop of videos…..this really was a showcase for their songs.
One bit of audience interaction has to be reported though; after only 24 hours in the Region Kimberly Schlapman greeted the audience with “Hello GATESHEAD…….we know you’re NOT Newcastle!” Which was a lovely touch as this world class venue is on the much maligned South side of the River Tyne, and not the more famous Northern side. She then told a lovely anecdote about the nuances of our local accent……which went down very well indeed.
I knew very little about the band prior to tonight; so was really impressed with Take Me Down, especially when the guitarist who had been hiding in the shadows strolled to the front of the stage for a short and sharp solo……”play that funky geetar….kidda!”
Others that caught my attention were the new single Better Man, Rollin (which featured FOUR guitarists!), Tornado, Save Your Sin and of course the awe-inspiring Girl Crush.
As is my won’t on nights like this I’m prone to watching the crowd’s reactions to songs and singers; and this crowd doted on every single note from each singer as they each took a turn at lead vocals.
Surprisingly there appeared to be an under prepared tribute to the late Don Williams, which started so well with some beautiful four part harmonies on Lord, I Hope This Day is Good and I Believe in Love, out of nowhere they morphed into an Alicia Keys song then When Doves Cry! All really well sung; but what they had to do with Don Williams I will never know.
Then of course there was my “I know this song” moment. The sultry swampy-funk tune confused me but I sure knew the lyrics……DOH……Little Big Town had not only turned the Indie Classic Wonderwall into a Country song; but a spellbinding one at that. 10/10
Oh dear; I also faced a modern concert problem; two female characters from Viz Comic sitting/standing/dancing/drinking sitting directly behind me, who shouted their admiration for each song (especially the ballads) to each other until song #14 when my patience finally snapped and ‘words were exchanged.’ Defeated but unbowed they decided to dance/wobble in the aisle, only returning to gulp their pints and puff on their e-cigs. Kids today?
Hey ho; that apart I really enjoyed the whole show…….24 songs (with no filler) followed by two glorious encores; making for an exceptionally well paced evening….. what’s not to like?
Afterwards I heard someone bemoaning the fact that the venue should be booking likes of Toby Keith and Tim McGraw! Get real!! That shipped many years ago; so it was a wonderful surprise to see Little Big Town playing a UK Tour at venues that ‘only’ hold 3,000 or so fans; and hopefully they will go home and tell their friends of their welcome (and the merch they sold) therefore bringing even more Grade 1 Country Acts to our fair shores.
The Remedy Club
LOVERS, LEGENDS & LOST CAUSES
High Flyin’ Disc.
Damn Fine Country Music But With an Irish Heart and Soul.
Much as British Country Music used to be sneered at, Irish Country Music while hugely popular and profitable was laughable outside certain insular circles……even Daniel O’Donnell!
That is…..until now.
I’d never heard of The Remedy Club; nor its constituent parts of husband and wife KJ McEvoy and Aileen Mythen when I received this album last week; but only a few days later I found myself professing undying love on Twitter for my new favourite duo of all time…..and here’s why.
I immediately sat to attention like a Meerkat as the first notes from Aileen Mythen’s gorgeous voice filtered through the office air on opening song I Miss You, and then after a minute or so of luscious harmonies on a deeply sad love song; KJ enters the fray with some of the dirtiest Twang guitar you will ever hear.
To some degree this is two albums rolled into one; as both partners get to take lead, and each has a completely different style; with Aileen breaking hearts left right and centre with sad love-lorn ballads like Come On, Last Song or the Countriest Country song you will hear this year, This Is Love which all take you back to the era of Patsy Cline and Ruby Murray but with razor sharp lyrics that cut through the pathos like a hot knife through butter.
But; this gal ain’t no pushover as she proves she can Rock the Joint like any man can on Sweet White Lies; and I’m pleased I’m not the fella she is spitting the words out about!
KJ, on the other hand is pure Bakersfield straight outta Wexford. Big Ole Fancy is a cracking tongue in cheek look at the problems fame has caused him; and on Bottom of the Hill he sings “I gotta belly full o’ liquor/and a handful o’ pills/ain’t nobody gonna cure my ills”.
Hear it and you will hear the spirit of George and Hank in every note; which brings me to my ‘favourite song’ which breaks my heart to say it’s one of KJ’s, as I so desperately wanted it to be the Aileen song When Tom Waits Up.
But, Listening to Hank Williams is just so damn pure brilliant, it can’t be anything else. We’ve all been there; when things get so bad you just got to play some Hank; and KJ recounts his sorry tale while a honky-tonk piano rolls along beside some ace pedal-steel while the bass, drums and guitar strum gently alongside Aileen’s pearlescent harmonies…….and there is even a yodel for extra authenticity!
This is MY kinda damn Country music.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a sucker for a Country duo and The Remedy Club, with their clever and articulate songwriting, which straddle Classic and contemporary themes with ease, toe-tapping tunes and a slick as quicksilver band tick every box I have; and there’s absolutely no way you would hear this album and think it was recorded by anything other than two Americans in the heart of Texas or Tennessee; but it’s as Irish as a shamrock at it’s heart.
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.
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.
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 Insurgent 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.
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.