World Weary and Grizzled British Country Rock to Stir The Soul.
All I seem to take from the accompanying Press Release is that The Blue Highways are probably British, were formed in 2018 and Bob Harris likes them. But perhaps that’s all we need to know, as the music they create certainly ‘does the talking’ for them. The powerful opening track He Works kick-starts the EP like pouring petrol on a BBQ! This tale of guy who works hard day in and day out without complaint suddenly has his world turned upside down; giving him the opportunity to finally live the life he daydreams about ……. but does he take it? All in all He Works is a very clever and intelligent song masquerading as a 4 to the floor Country Rocker with additional horn section. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this song came from the Southern States and not Southern England! Callum Leary’s world weary and grizzled vocals and a muscular rhythm somehow lift the next song, the almost Shakespearean Blood Off Your Hands into Black Crowes territory, if I’m not mistaken. Next out of the traps, Matter of Love buzzes along like it’s tail is on fire, and this enigmatic and twisted Love Song manages to question the whole concept of love, if you listen carefully …….. but even if I’m wrong, it has a very catchy chorus anyways. With British Country and UK Americana in the ascendancy today, but judging by those first three songs The Blue Highways have decided to quite rightly, ‘out rock’ every one else on the scene; but they also throw a splendid ‘curve ball’ with the final track Have You Seen My Baby, which is more of an acoustic heartbreaker; and even without the aid of the splendid Henry Senior Jr. from Danny and the Champs supplying some truly maudlin pedal-steel would more than likely have been my Favourite Song by a Country Mile. From their profile pictures The Blue Highways are unfeasibly young to have created such a mature and well crafted songs; but they have and this EP is certainly well worth hunting down regardless of which side of the Atlantic you live on.
A Stepping-Stone in the Right Direction For Alt. Country Stardom.
While many of my peers were instantly smitten by Beth Bombara’s last recorded outing Map and No Direction, I couldn’t get my head around it and thought the title very apt indeed. Jump forward a couple of years and I’m not 100% sure I’m listening to the same singer and songwriter (I am btw). There’s a new self-confidence and maturity in not just Beth’s writing, but her singing too, starting with the criminally beautiful I Only Cry When I’m Sad. The title says it all really and add Beth’s rich and earthy vocals to Samuel Gregg’s crunch electric guitar and Mike Schurk’s ‘enhanced heartbeat’ drumming and you have an almost perfect Country Heartbreaker. It’s quite clear to hear that Beth and band have honed these songs on the road, as there’s hardly a note or phrase out of place anywhere; and Karl Kling and Kit Hamon’s production must surely mirror the sound Ms. Bombara had in her head when she entered the studio. When you listen to Upside Down, Tenderhearted or Criminal Tongue it’s as if Beth must have alternated Lucinda’s WORLD WITHOUT TEARS and Tom Petty’s FULL MOON FEVER on the van stereo and thought ….. “I can do that too.” And she can! There’s a lot of that nascent Alt. Country here; but Beth is also very capable of throwing a curve-ball to keep you on your toes; the maudlin All Good Things finds Beth mostly singing; (or is it pouring her heart out?) alongside John Calvin Abney at the piano and earlier on the epic Anymore she and her band bring that Alt. Country ‘sound’ right up to date; and then some! Although Beth Bombara comes from Missouri and now lives in St. Louis, this All American gal sure sounds very Canadian here ……. I mean that in the most complimentary manner. There’s a sharpness to her her songs that I usually associate with bands and singers from way Up North; rather than the Southern States. Which all brings me around to the RMHQ Favourite Song; not an easy choice as the title track Evergreen is the most commercial song here and may even be ‘too Country’ for Country Radio; but a gentle nudge in the right direction and it is perfect for daytime radio. Then there is Criminal Tongue which is razor-sharp, cool and articulate, with Beth coming across as a alluring combination of Bobbie Gentry and Dusty Springfield fronting Crazy Horse! This is a very special album and has all the hallmarks of being the stepping-stone that my fellow reviewers hinted at two years ago; it’s fair to say Beth Bombara certainly has a map and a definite direction now …… The Top!
Leroy From The North Health & Fitness Self-Release
Heavy, Heavy Alt. Country That Rocks.
Originally this was misfiled in my I-Tunes under the wrong name; and I was mystified when I very nearly reviewed it as a world-weary singer-songwriter’s latest release! All’s well that ends well; and now Eli WulfMeier aka Leroy From The North’s debut EP and precursor to the Autumn release of a full album can get its full deserts on RMHQ, as it’s been a late night favourite in the Magmobile on the journey home from work. Originally from Michigan and now based in LA, WulfMeier a) sure knows how to Rock in an Alt. Country manner and b) has great musical taste which really and truly influences all 5 songs here. The fast and furious duelling guitars on opening track Into The Sunset set the tone for a Classic Poco/Eaglesish hybrid that will have you shuffling your feet and playing Air-Guitar like a spotty teenager while bellowing out the crusty chorus (or that may be just me!). Who knew Country Rock could still have a melody and a chorus in 2019? This followed by Fast Friends, which again features some dazzling fretwork, but is nailed very firmly to Daxx Neilson’s Industrial Strength drumming, which actually makes a refreshing change; and WulfMeier’s songwriting and storytelling ain’t too shabby either. In his bio ‘Leroy From the North’ has played alongside a few ‘big hitters’ in the LA Alt. scene over the years, and the name Johnny Fritz popped up …… who’s Dad Country album is still a form favourite in the RMHQ stereo. Track #3 Here in My Home is a lot ‘Heavier’ than I’d have expected; oddly enough making me think of Ronnie Van Zandt fronting Jon Lord era Deep Purple …….obviously I could be wrong; but not by much. The song still fits in perfectly well and is a counterpoint to the pure prairie Country of Locked Out which it precedes. Then there is Hey Man (Hammerheads) which is a case of Leroy keeping the best (or is it The Beast?) for last, and easily the RMHQ Favourite Track here, as it is ‘heads down, pedal to the metal, full on Country Rock Thrash’ the likes of which I haven’t heard in donkeys years; and sounds like an ‘encore number’ if ever I’ve heard one! It’s not clear if these songs will appear on the forthcoming album; but I presume they will; so use this as an exquisite ‘starter’ in readiness for the Meaty, Beaty, Big n Bouncy album that is bound to light up our lives.
Zervas & Pepper Endless Road, Restless Nomad Zerodeo Records/Universal Distribution
The Sound of a Laurel Canyon Summer From the Valleys.
I’m still smarting from missing SummerTyne Americana Festival 2019 as there’s always an act I’ve never heard of that blows me away; just like Zervas & Pepper did in 2015. It appears not a lot and a whole lot has happened since then for the Welsh duo; especially in America where even the legend that is David Crosby is now a fan. ‘Not a lot’ in as much as their stories, harmonies and singing styles are pretty much as I remember; but this is now a ‘Cat A’ release on a major label and the production sounds very luscious and expensive too; but never distracting from what Zervas & Pepper do best; singing from the heart. The album opens with Kathryn turning the clock back to 1968 with The Gift; a glorious Soft Rocker, with Country undertones that harks back to those halcyon Laurel Canyon days when we all thought every day was a holiday. It’s all too easy to drift aimlessly through the songs that make up ENDLESS ROAD, RESTLESS NOMAD, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all; especially during these balmy days of Summer; but then you will miss out on some wonderful songs that should be listened to quite intently; such is the cleverness of the couple’s songwriting. The two very disparate songs that make up the album title Endless Road which has Kathryn’s amazing voice taking us on an epic emotional journey and when Paul goes all ‘James Taylor’ on Restless Nomad; musicians of all persuasions will know exactly where he’s coming from (as will quite a few listeners with proper day jobs too!). With three albums already under their belts; there’s now a distinct maturity to the couple’s complex storytelling; yet all are accessible regardless of your approach to music; Cruising Clear sounds almost too perfect; but keep listening and the story peels away to reveal something that could have been on one of the early Eagles albums; while Gas Bottle Blue is a quintessentially British song masquerading as Americana and will sound perfect drifting out of the car radio on a sunny afternoon. Another track that deserves your attention is Salvador, not just because of Paul’s exquisite guitar playing but the way the beautiful story unfurls leaving you smiling and almost breathless by the end. Selecting a Favourite Song is rarely easy; and with so many here that could be Hit Singles (if such things still exist for our generation); but Catacombs and There Is Only Love really do stand out; and would on the wireless too; but I’m going to choose the charismatic Indian Seas which closes the album as it’s a bit left of centre and I don’t think Kathryn Pepper has ever sung finer…… and that’s saying something! This album sounds like a game changer for the couple who are fiercely proud of their Welsh roots, because Zervas & Pepper don’t really fit into the burgeoning British Country scene, as they transcend borders with grace…….. they are now a truly International Americana act that sit comfortably in all genres of this Musical Gumbo.
The 40 Acre Mule Goodnight & Good Luck State Fair Records
The Pumping Heartbeat and Pure Soul of Modern Rock & Roll!
You know me by now; I’m regularly guilty of ‘judging an album by the cover’ ……. but why; not? It’s what I, and probably you did as kids back in the olden golden days of wasting whole Saturday afternoons back in our teenage days. So, with that thought in mind, I’m 99.99% sure I’d have asked Graham Herdman if I could hear a couple of tracks from this album had I found it in the racks of his record stall in Stanley Market. It wouldn’t have took even two minutes of the Gritty Blues of opening track You’d Better Run for me to be counting my pocket money to swap for this album of earthly delights. What’s not to like? As they themselves say, 40 Acre Mule ‘blur the lines covering ‘Country, Soul, Blues and Rock & Roll!” Where to start? The Rocking Boogie of 16 Days is as good a place as any; but hey kids ……. that sax solo that opens the sultry Somethin’ Next to Nothin’ will shake the rafters before the band slips and slides into a Bob Seger/Creedence swampy ode to luuurve. The band started up in Dallas only 4 years ago and have been hacking around the back-roads of America ever since, honing their craft until the world was ready for songs like Shake Hands With The Devil, Hat in Hand and the bodacious and funklicious Bathroom Walls. As a man of a ‘certain vintage’ I can bore you with all of the influences that litter this fabulous album; but who cares where this ‘sound’ comes from? It’s where 40 Acre Mule are now that counts, right? In their bio they say “We’ve gone from 10 to 15 friends in a dive bar on a Tuesday to playing full-on festivals without even having an album out,” and I can only presume both scenarios can be adjusted to wow the crowds out front. Choosing a Favourite Song certainly hasn’t been easy, as the full on Rocking and Rolling Josephine was my first selection last week; but now I’m erring towards the lowdown and sexy Be With Me which kinda caught me by surprise the other night; and I like that with an album; when it has the ability to keep throwing up songs that make me ‘think’ as well as make me want to jump around like a loon! So, Be With Me it is. GOODNIGHT & GOOD LUCK is a timeless artifact, owing a lot to bands and singles from the cusp of the late 60’s and early 70’s; but if I was 18 or 19 again today this album would blow my mind and 40 Acre Mule would be my favourite ever band.
Country Doesn’t Get Much More Countrier Than This Anymore.
I don’t have to give you three chances to guess who Casey Kristofferson’s Dad might be, do I? Yup, it’s Kris and her Mum is none other than Rita Coolidge, so the pedigree is certainly in the genes; but I’ve lost count of the number of albums I’ve received over the years from children/siblings/cousins twice removed of famous Rock Stars. One or two have stood the test of time, AJ Croce and The Chapin Sisters spring to mind, but the rest? PAH! Now I’ve had this album for a week or so, I’m happy to report young Casey sits in the former camp; taking her looks and gorgeous voice from her Mother and to some degree her writing skills from her Father. That said; DIRTY FEET is very much a ‘band effort’ with Casey herself and ‘guest’ Andy Buckner sharing singing duties, with Buckner also supplying acoustic guitar and electric too, as well as Muddy Welles delivering some mean Country guitar throughout, giving everything a ‘Classic Country Rock’ feel about it, Opening song Blessed & Cursed errs on the side of Classic Country in the way Casey sings her little heart out, but boy can these cats Rock and Boogie too, when they put their minds to it. On Feeling More Like Myself and Only Thing I Can’t Do Without Buckner takes the lead and somehow criss-crosses the gung-ho Southern Rock sound I loved as a young man with modern ‘Trucker Country’ that the kids love today; and to my untutored ears ……. it’s a marriage made in Heaven! So far I haven’t researched the band’s videos; but I hope the pictures live up to the sultry way Casey delivers Drown, with its perfect mix of bitterness and heartfelt sadness; and like so many other tracks here; really comes to life whenever Jim Aaron blows his harmonica and Woods makes his guitar weep and wail. So far I’ve played DIRTY FEET in the car a few times, and also in the house too, and both scenarios work, as you can blast the hell out of them if you want, but get just as much enjoyment listening on headphones. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why Casey includes Me & Bobby McGee here; and I’m sure it’s a fan favourite when sung live; but here it only distracts from her own efforts which are pretty damn good in their own rite. One song in particular jumped out the first time I played this album; but there are a couple of others that are now running it a close second; Buckner’s heartbreaking ballad Bad Side of Me and the epic grungy finale Dirty Feet which sounds like Casey and Buckner spent 48 hours listening to Skynard and Jason Isbell non-stop before writing and recording this absolute monster! But there is also that ‘special song’ I alluded to; Quit Drinking Less, which ticks every box we have here; with the dynamic duo swapping verses on a love-lorn heartbreaker that is as Country as a Nudie suit or a Stetson hat. Casey’s voice aches with sorrow as Buckner takes on the role of the ‘done wrong’ man as the band sound like they have tears running down their cheeks as they keep time behind them. It’s a genuine gold plated belter. These songs thankfully never, ever approach that Heavy Rock Country that breaks my heart when I try to watch the CMA Awards, Ms. Kristofferson, Mr Buckner and friends give us the type of Country Rock that is full of melodies, pathos and occasionally sizzling guitar solos, but most of all…… 21st Century HEART!
I was watching a musician on stage once and between songs, while tuning up, he was talking about his influences. Blues, classic rock, 1970’s pop. And then he made this announcement: “I pretty much skipped over the 1980’s and 90’s. Never listened to ANYTHING from those decades.” At that point I knew he had nothing he could show me. If he was that dismissive about twenty years of rock ‘n’ roll’s musical heritage — two decades of highly influential artists, bands and people who made a huge difference, and changed pop music as we know it today — then I could no longer take him seriously. Where would we be without the Replacements? R.E.M.? Black Flag, Prince, Sonic Youth, Run-D.M.C., Nirvana, the Cranberries? Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Madonna, Radiohead, the Smiths? I could go on, but I think you get my point. Those tumultuous years where pop and rock and rap and country all changed significantly, seemingly overnight, were a huge influence on musicians and music lovers in general the world over. As much as I love many bands from the 1950’s through the late-1970’s I’m glad we had the cosmic shake-up of post-punk and the changing of the guard of what was on the radio back then. It made most of us appreciate a broader range of musical genres than we had before. You like some blistering distorted guitar with your Country? Go for it. Rapping over samples, beats, and sound effects? Sure, no problem. You want to play slide bass with slamming drums and saxophone? Yes, yes, yes! So I am glad to tell you all that Massy Ferguson’s album Great Divides is full of tasteful influences from the 1980’s and 90’s from the lead guitars, to the crisp snares and hi-hats and boomy tom-toms. But they also have the guts to throw in some rather tasty organ swells and rocking piano on several of these cuts too; try Maybe The Gods; to hear what I mean. These cats come across as “Americana” (they are named after a tractor company after-all) but, despite the southern drawl, at heart they’re indie rockers at heart, and it shows on songs such as “Mama’s in the Backseat” and “Drop an Atom Bomb on Me.” They come right out of the gate running fast and hard with “Can’t Remember” which has the obligatory catchy chorus and they hardly let up except for the occasional softer song such as “Saying You Were There” and “Saddest Man” (which has some nice pedal steel and a good walk-down melody and some of the better emotional lyrics on the album.) Massy Ferguson reminds me of the band the Refreshments with more green pastures and country creeks than lonesome desert highway. More workingman, less holidaze. Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t rocket science and the Massy Ferguson contingent knows this well. Don’t think too hard, just rock out. You can sort out the details later.
Review by The Legendary Roy Peak CBE & Bass. Released May 17th 2019
Lowdown Drifters Last Call For Dreamers Edgewater Music Group/Sony Music
Top Quality Classic Twist on Modern Country Rock
I was initially intrigued to find that Lowdown Drifters come from Washington, where I too live, but I’d never heard of them or the clubs they’ve been playing in for years…… then I dug deeper; and discovered that there’s another Washington……in America! Who knew? This is the band’s second album; following the release of WOOD & WATER in 2016; and right from opening track Red Rock I just feel that the time is right for them to conquer the English speaking world. A weary sounding man drawls over a steel-guitar and a drum that sounds like a pumping heart; “Fifty miles from town and the needles on empty I let her coast to the side of the road Nothing around but a memory and me And that West Texan sun hanging low.” As it progresses and builds to an epic finale, a swirling electric guitar adds to the melodrama in the narrators sad, sad story …….. and you know you have invested both your money and time very wisely indeed. This is followed by the enigmatic single We Three Kings, which confirms the absolute class these guys bleed in their words and music; combining great blue-collar storytelling with a majestic Country Rock melody that will stand the test of time. To some greater or lesser degree Lowdown Drifters fill a gap somewhere between Little Feet, Poco, Alabama and even Lynard Skynard; welding smooth Rock guitars to an intrinsically Country set of songs and stories. Nearly every song here conjures up it’s own imagery without the need for a video; especially Diesel Smoke and This Old House. The ‘drinking songs’, Empty Bottles Between the Bottom and the Bottle and the very danceable Barstools my be staple themes for Country; but the way these two songs are delivered feel like a punch to the jaw and are worthy of serious play on the American radio stations; and will surely be crowd favourites when played live? While this is very much a cracking album from start to finish; reminding me of the sheer thrills I felt when I first discovered Toby Keith and Poco many years ago; but there are two definite songs that stick out and make Lowdown Drifters rise above their contemporaries. Diamonds and Rust is one of those amazing songs that you can’t exactly pin down; but has you tapping your toes and mumbling the chorus even when you don’t exactly know the chorus; and the other is the one I’m choosing as my Favourite Track, the slinky acoustic ballad Fire in Her Eyes; a song that has echoes of Springsteen circa Darkness at the Edge of Town and Vince Gill at any time in his single days. This is as Cool as Modern Country gets……. check it out ASAP. Foe the likes of me living in the UK, what Lowdown Drifters do is something akin to ‘Fantasy Country’ as they tick every box I have and sing about ‘The American Dream’ (and the anxiety type too) with care and love, plus they sound like they haven’t just lived the songs themselves; but are still living them today…… which isn’t exactly true of many of today’s Trucker cap and torn jean wearing ‘heroes’.
# Sadly my review copy only lists the band members names; so I can’t tell you who sings or plays what…… but you can find that out yourself when you buy your own copy!
Lone Justice Live at The Palomino (1983) Omnivore Recordings
A Very Early Alternative to Alt. Country.
Most Live Recordings don’t stand the test of time and are generally a snapshot of where that particular artiste or band were at that time in their existence; and the latter is very true of this exciting 35 minute long Album from a nascent Lone Justice in 1983 who still hadn’t released their groundbreaking debut album yet. When you hear Maria’s reverential pleading on opening track You Are The Light, you are hearing a woman not yet finding her voice; but still leading her band from front and centre with more confidence than her tender years should have allowed. There’s a youthful swagger to Drugstore Cowboy and The Train that I should have expected, but somehow didn’t …… those old Lone Justice albums never sounded this exciting; nor how could they? It’s interesting to read in the accompanying sleeve-notes that it was after seeing Elvis Costello playing the Country songs that would make up Almost Blue, at The Palomino Club that turned Ryan Hedgecock’s head towards Ye Olde Country Music and away from Rockabilly. It was that very same album that was the gateway to what has become an obsession for me here at RMHQ. There’s a delightful innocence to the way the quartet approach their collective songwriting on Dustbowl Depression Time and The Grapes of Wrath and maybe I See It, but simplicity has paid a lot of bills in Nashville over the years and these songs all have a magnificently danceable beat supplied by Don Willens on the tiniest drum kit I’ve seen in years….. but size isn’t everything, is it? Baring in mind their peers and probably friends too were dressing like extras in Dallas or Magnum PI the night this was recorded in 1983; Lone Justice were treading a very dangerous and lonely path covering Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash songs while Maria McKee was undoubtedly channelling her inner Dolly Parton; but in her Honky Tonk years! My favourite track here and it’s also one that sounds like it should be an actual Classic Country tune; is Marvin Etzioni’s Working Late; an audience request on the night and a song worthy of everyone from Dolly through Reba and it wouldn’t surprise me if Margo Price was to ever cover it….. it’s a doozy! It’s all over far too quickly; but they played two shows that night; as was the way back then and they had to allow for two sets from their support act….. guess who? Only bloody Dwight Yoakam! That’s who. This is being released as part of the Record Store Day 2019 shenanigans; but it’s a keeper in many ways so don’t you let it get lost in the madness of April 12th……. order a copy now; you won;t regret it.
Shane Dwight No One Loves Me Better Red Parlor Records
Southern Rock With a Hefty Dash of Blues and Country.
There’s no special formula when it comes to choosing albums to review, and it can sometimes be a minefield; especially when I don’t recognise any of the names in the pile. In this particular case it wasn’t the fairly interesting artwork that caught my attention; but the guy’s name ….. Shane Dwight. It sort of sounded like a character from the TV series Nashville to my addled mind; and as if by magic Shane’s fascinating Southern Rocking Country/Blues hybrid could easily have fit into that show just perfectly. The title track No One Loves Me Better kick-starts the album like turning the key in a new Porsche Boxster…… a delightful rumble that foretells a classy ride is in store, preferably with the top down. Dwight has a ‘worn around the edges’ sound to it; and the glorious female backing vocalists coupled to some cool rolling piano and guitar that accompanies Dwight sounds like it could all have been appropriated from Muscle Shoals back in it’s heyday, as opposed to Kevin McKendree’s studio in Franklin, TN. Dwight wears his influences proudly as he throws caution to the wind on the Roadhouse boogie of Stand Up and on If You Ain’t The Devil he gets low down and dirty in a way that makes you feel all hot and sweaty. Even though it’s all too easy to just sit back and wallow in Dwight’s demonstrative and expressive voice; there’s a lot going in both the background of his songs but the detail in his fairly edgy subject matter too. While most songs will be most at home when played out in full, in concert there’s more than enough to enthrall the listener at home or in the car when you hear Levy Girl, She Likes to Ride and the awesome Sucker, with it’s nod in the direction of Bozz Scaggs, but with a Hip-Hop beat. I’ve been torn between two entirely different songs for my title of Favourite Song; Trial of a Poet is a very modern twist on traditional Country Blues and features some sizzling Resonator guitar as Bekka Bramlett wails like a haunting siren in the background. The other is a straight up ‘cheating’ Country Rocker; Bullets & Gasoline; but the way Dwight and the band pull it together makes it rather special indeed and is sure to be concert closer supreme! It appears Shane Dwight has been around the American Blues scene for a decade or so; but this album so classy and well constructed I think the time is right for him to break out into the rest of the World; which will welcome him with open arms.