Classic Rock Meets Americana in a Sweaty Club.
While not quite a Supergroup; the four constituent parts of London based band Jawbone most certainly have very enviable CV’s after playing alongside Rock Royalty like Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and Tom Jones to name but four over the years.
With that in mind it was the name Marcus Bonafanti that jumped out for me, even though I don’t actually any of his solo albums…..I know he’s a quality guitarist with a capital Q!
So; I was taken aback by the almost laid back Country Rock and Americana feel to opening song Leave No Traces, which just goes to show you should never pre-judge these things.
Still reeling I was, and still am impressed by the harmonies Bonafanti and keyboardist Paddy Milner create in between taking alternate lines on haunting and clever song about ‘being lost’ in both life and love……which is something many of us can associate with.
This is one of those albums that work in many settings; but for me having it on the car stereo was when it really and truly came to life.
While Jawbone are probably ‘Rockers’ at heart; songs like the cleverly constructed and deeply personal Family Man, Rolling on the Underground and Sit Around The Table show a mellower and occasionally more playful side than full on Blues Rock would ever allow.
I’m sure when they play live many of these songs will take on a whole new life; as indicated by the neatly restrained powerhouse Big Old Smoke and possibly even the rolling and smouldering Get What You Deserve….. but I could be wrong of course.
To some greater or lesser degree the complex arrangements and the way they revolve around Milner on the piano with Bonafanti playing in the shadows, means that Bet On Yesterday and the song that closes events The Years Used To Mean So Much owe a helluva lot to the master-works of Elton John; and that is meant to be a huge compliment.
There are plenty of songs here that are perfect for the radio; but one in particular has all the hallmarks of being a crossover hit, making the wonderful Rock Ballad When Your Gun Is Loaded easily my favourite song here; especially the chorus,
‘When your gun is loaded
Don’t point it at your feet
I never make the same mistakes
I make new ones every day’
Come on; who among us doesn’t think that applies to them? I certainly think it could be about me, and me alone.
There’s a lot going on here, with the intensity of someone U2 in their early days sitting alongside the harmonies of CSN&Y, while, honestly some of the sweeping flourishes could be Queen without the pomposity and bizarrely there are also tiny echoes of Little Feet and the Band too at times.
This have been an amazing journey of discovery and in Marcus Bonafanti and Paddy Milner Jawbone have two very diverse yet complimentary singers; and each of the four bring an individual set of musical skills that add together to create an extraordinary debut album, that has the potential to lay the groundwork for a very special next few years.
Released 9th November 2018
DOGS BARK AT NOTHING
Free Dirt Records
Authentic Bar-Room Country For a Cold Autumn Night.
Apologies to everyone concerned, as this review is now over four weeks late…… not because I didn’t like the album; far from it….but I’d somehow neglected to include it on my October spreadsheet!
Basically this was a regular travelling companion in the car during September; then gradually faded away until Saturday when opening track JP’s Florida Blues #1 blasted out of the speakers via my I-Phone and I was transported back to the hot and sultry days of Summer (pretending I was driving across the Florida/Georgia line rather than through industrial Tyne and Wear!).
Man…. Is this song a belter; echoes of classic Chuck Berry, Creedence and Bob Seger whizz through your brain as JP and the guys relive their younger days touring the back road dives of their collective youth in a way that actually makes it sound sexy and romantic!
The mood slows down to a more melodic pace for Lady In The Spotlight, and Harris’s world weary and worn down voice articulately tells a story that could perhaps have been included in A Star is Born to describe the way the Lady GaGa character was groomed by her sleazy manager.
While it’s becoming a staple in Country Music these days; JP really does capture the spirit of a man who has been far too dependent on the demon alcohol in the almost chirpy Why I Quit Drinking, finding solace in the minutiae of finally remembering what he did and where he did it the previous night.
I’ve heard a few dull songs on the subject; but JP’s song is very listenable and never preachy.
The album balance is fun, with the punchy Hard Road breathing fresh life into proceedings in the middle then ending with the rip-roaring Country Rocker Jimmy’s Dead and Gone; but in-between Harris explores the mellower and introspective edgy side of Country Music with wily and knowing songs like Long Ways Back and the heart-breaking Runaway which features Miss Kristina Murray on ghostly harmonies and Leroy Powell making his pedal-steel sound like tears stinging a cheek.
Even without the actual song being as good as it is, the title of the album Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing is as good a Country album title as I’ve ever heard; and Harris’s sharply observed and gut wrenching words really do it justice.
There’s a second drinking song here; and in my humble opinion I Only Drink Alone nicely juxtaposes Why I Quit Drinking, as it takes all the fun out of getting drunk as Harris alongside Mark Sloan on the most melancholy piano you will hear all year, take us deep into George Jones territory and don’t let us leave until the tears are dry; and for that reason it takes the prize of RMHQ Favourite Track with ease.
When I watch the CMA’S or even highlights from C2C I’m often confused as to what constitutes Country Music anymore; and perhaps ‘everything’ is Country Music these days; but for me JP Harris embodies what I want from it; great well written and authentic songs that are sung by a man who has lived every word (which is what he sounds like!) and a Bigsby on his guitar coupled to a scorching pedal-steel don’t go amiss either!
Released October 5th 2018.
If You’re Gonna Drive, I’m Gonna Drink (SINGLE)
Remember when you would be listening to the radio and something would come on that would make you go WOW, then desperately try to hear the band’s name so you could spend your pocket money on that 45RPM single on Saturday?
That’s how I felt when I played this (download) single yesterday.
OK, it’s not ‘pushing any boundaries’ and the theme is pretty much what 35% of all Country songs is based around; but this single from New Yawk’s LELAND SUNDRIES just immediately captured my attention with it’s droll lyrics and intentionally sloppy arrangement….. and the B-Side is rather tasty too; what’s not to like?
According to Nick, from the band who sent it….
“It’s 1/3 true (I used to drink a lot), 1/3 overheard, and 1/3 made up. The B-side is “Lone Prairie,” a punk version of a traditional cowboy song that I first heard from the Down Hill Strugglers, a Brooklyn string band, at the Brooklyn Folk Fest. We asked ourselves what the Replacements would do with it and tried to do that.”
Released 19th October 2018
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
LIVE at the RYMAN
The Crown Prince of Alt. Country in All His Lucid Glory.
It’s kinda funny how Jason Isbell became an ‘Overnight Success’ after God knows how many years he has been hawking his act around the bars, clubs and concert halls around the world to ever increasing, but never huge crowds of appreciative Americana fans. But, to me and you he’s been a bonafide Star ever since his early Rock n Roll days in Drive By Truckers and even more so since he went solo and redefined what Alt. Country could actually be, but it took him winning TWO Grammy Awards earlier this year, and more recently getting one of his songs included in the A Star is Born movie; primarily to make Bradley Cooper appear ‘authentic enough’ for the rest of the world to catch on.
So with a whole new fan base to sate; Jason and those cool cats at Southeastern Records have culled 13 tracks from last year’s six Sold Out nights at the Ryman to showcase his talents where they shine brightest……in concert!
Although he has more ‘famous and popular songs’ I can’t think of a better song of his than Hope The High Road to open this album. It rocks like rowing boat in a storm, and Isbell’s way with words is as articulate as a Hemingway novel; and don’t get me started on those guitar solos!
This is followed by a spectacular version of 24 Frames and White Man’s World which was scarily prophetic when it first appeared on Nashville Sound but now; a year later it’s sadly even more pertinent; and Amanda’s fiddle playing often out rocks the guitars; and boy do they sizzle!
Although this isn’t a ‘live from the soundboard recording’ there’s certainly enough intensity and excitement in Last Of My Kind and Flagship to make new fans want…. No ‘need’ to check his website to find out when Jason & The 400 Unit are coming to town.
His songwriting has always been exemplary in my book; but when you hear the crystal clear production coupled to Isbell’s fierce approach on Super 8 and Cumberland Gap, you just know that those Two Grammys are only going to be the start of a big collection of shiny trophies.
Finding a Favourite Track here hasn’t been easy, as each and every song has its own merits especially the mesmerising Elephant, which is one of the most heart-breakingly clever and beautiful songs I’ve ever, ever heard and I’m going to go against the grain and pass over the Grammy Winning We Must Be Vampires; which is still every bit as brilliant as it was on the original album but instead I’m choosing the epic The Life You Choose, which I’ve grown to love over the last three years; and again Isbell somehow manages to wring even more passion and imagery out of it in this format than I could ever have dared hope.
If I have a complaint about LIVE AT THE RYMAN, it’s that some truly amazing songs from the first three albums are missing; presumably because of licensing issues, but they are missing none the less; but…. Hey ho…….. what is here more than makes up for that and showcases a truly amazing talent.
Released October 19th 2019
The Weight Band
WORLD GONE MAD
No Stage Fright From These Big Pink Veterans.
Normally I have a pathologic hatred of looky-likey bands; so even though the Press Release was a bit vague I still approached this release with appropriate caution.
But (*Spoiler Alert) the end result is just fine and dandy; as The Weight Band, who are made up of musicians from the Band’s latter touring version pay homage to the forefathers of Americana AND Alt. Country in the finest way without resorting to lazy cover versions of the Hits; but carefully selecting a couple of rarities and a Jerry Garcia cover to compliment 8 of their own songs; which sound pretty damn authentic.
Obviously for fiscal reasons The Weight Band sound uncannily like The Band; and the title track World Gone Mad sounds just perfect in that context; blending a little bit of old-school hippy wisdom with 21st Century cynicism; which is why the originals music still stands tall today.
Once I’d put my original reservations to one side I quickly fell in love with the raunchy You’re Never Too Old to Rock and Roll, which will be included on the mythical RMHQ Soundtrack album.
This is immediately followed by Big Legged Sadie (from Saskatoon) which genuinely sounds like the Band in all their finery having a ball on a cheeky love song.
I’m sorry if I keep ‘comparing and contrasting’ but it’s difficult not too, as we have three singers here who all sound very similar to Levon, Robbie and Garth; and their instrumentation and playing is as razor sharp as you’d expect too.
With that in mind; I’ve sort of treat this album as ‘the album the Band never made’ and in that context Every Step of The Way and Fire in The Hole work perfectly well; and the beautiful I Wish You Were Here Tonight sounds even better and could easily have been an out take from Cahoots.
But; then again Heat of the Moment and Bob Dylan’s 1998 Day of the Locusts, while fitting the format perfectly well somehow manage to take the music in a whole new. exciting direction.
There is also one song here that straddles both of those formats and that’s the blue collar bodacious Country rocker, Common Man which is easily my favourite song here and sets the course for whatever The Weight Band choose to release next.
As they are first and foremost a touring band; the album closes with a Live track The Remedy, which truly showcases what this band are all about and manages to whet my appetite for any future UK Tour.
Released 14th September 2018
Anton & The Colts
NO END OF THE LINE
Country Rock Deluxe From The Clydeside Delta.
As I said a couple of weeks ago; it’s becoming very popular for one review on RMHQ to beget another from an artiste who read the original words and thought “I bet my album would fit in there too.”
Which brings us to a Scottish Americana act called Anton & The Colts and their debut album, which really, really does fit into our crazy little world like a hand in a glove.
You all know by now I judge everything by the strength of the opening track; and here the muscular Alright captured my attention within seconds. Anton’s breathy and gravelly voice alongside a white hot band make compelling listening; and your investment pays off handsomely with a very well constructed Americana/Country song; that belies it’s Scottish roots.
For some reason; and I hope I’m wrong I can’t help imagining the band wearing faded flared jeans and Converse Allstars as their luscious long hair flops across their faces when I hear the likes of Blues to Bed and Rock and a Hard Place; as they are both Country Rock Deluxe, making me hark back to the time I discovered bands like The Burritos and Poco decades ago.
Several of my friends who take their music far too seriously are going to miss out here; simply because Anton & The Colts don’t come from Tulsa or Fresno; but trust me this album is 100% Americana with Weekend Millionaire and Gypsy Heart being the type of sharply observed imagery that writers in East Nashville (and South London!) would give their Apple Mac to release.
To some degree what I like best here is the way this band blend imaginative light and shade throughout, reflecting real life and real people in The Summer That Could Never Be Outdone and the darkly delightful From My Fear too.
My choice of Favourite Track won’t please everyone; as to the uninitiated it will just sound gloomy; but it’s a song that hit me like a punch to the heart the first time I heard it; and I have subsequently wallowed in the richly observed tale of personal depression that is My Black Dog and Me for many days and nights now.
A very brave song to write and even braver to put music too and release out into the wild; but an articulate tale that sums up this horrible ‘feeling’ one gets as well as any one else I can think of.
There really is a lot to like; and be impressed with here and it’s obvious that Anton & The Colts have ‘paid their dues’ for many years before going into the studio; and the result is pretty damn exciting and deserves to be heard by an appreciative audience South, East and West of Hadrian’s Wall!
Released 7th September 2018
FORGET ABOUT GEORGIA (EP)
The Sound of Americana Plus.
Formed ten years ago; Lukas Nelson with Promise of the Real have pretty much flown under the radar even they more or less became Neil Young’s touring band in 2014, it wasn’t until last year that he and they came to my attention with the self titled album Promise of The Real; which is all quite odd as he’s one of Willie Nelson’s sons and has also played alongside his father since his teens.
But; as I said a year ago; this record isn’t about Willie or Neil…….it’s 100% Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real.
The opening track is a radio edit of Forget About Georgia from the last album and which owes as much to The Band as it does to anyone in Nelson’s life. A powerfully observational gut-wrenching tale of lost love that takes on a life of it’s own as Lukas’ pained voice and an understated backing, are interspersed with some spine tingling guitar interludes from the sharp end of the fretboard.
Later the same song gets majestically extended to a full on eight minutes and becomes something of a cinematic Americana Operetta that will have you clinging onto the armrests of your seat as the story slowly unfolds into a slow, sensual and dusty closure of almost epic proportions.
The second song Giving You Away follows in a similar steamy Southern fashion and would have made a great single in its own rite; as it’s the sort of heart breaking ballad that will have you pulling into the side of the road when it comes on the car radio.
With only five tracks to play with, and Forget About Georgia is repeated of course means that are really only 4 songs here; which is why the inclusion of a pretty note by note retreading of Bowie’s Life On Mars has baffled me for three weeks now. I have to presume it must be one of his favourite songs; but he doesn’t actually do anything new and he even sings in a ‘Flat Estuary’ accent which isn’t a million miles away from The Thin White Duke at that time in his life.
Then there is our Favourite Song here, by far ……Start To Go is more like it; as Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, take a giant step into the swaggering and rocking-most end of uncharted Americana Territory, and the result is staggering as, with the addition of some snarling punky geetar alongside harmonies that sound like the Georgia Satellites covering the Faces these guys show how professional they are; but can still have a ball too with a cracking Country Rock song that Rolls too……..please, please, please let this be the formula for the next album!
Released 7th September 2018
Renegade Maverick Records
Classy Country-Pop and More From Nor’n Ireland.
I can’t remember who I saw then supporting a couple of years ago but I do remember young Nor’n Irish band blowing someone famousish of stage at Sage Gateshead; and I’ve subsequently kept in touch with their stop-start career.
Without going into too much detail here; The Rising are no longer a 5 piece band; but a tight as a drum 3 piece with Chantelle McAteer at the fore, singing and playing an assortment of keyboards, guitarist Chris Logan and Brian Mellors providing a rock solid bass behind them (drummers and pedal-steel players are added extras).
The aptly titled MOVING ON opens the album; and the feisty trio throw down the gauntlet not just to their doubters, but also the burgeoning British Country Movement with a passionate modern Country Rocking breakup song that Chantelle sings as if her life depends on it.
The tempo slows down on next song Forgive and Forget; but the mood of the broken hearted singer remains just as raw, just as it does on the bitter sweet Rebound.
Already I can imaging teenage girls everywhere poring over the lyrics thinking “they are singing about ME!” Just as Mrs. Magpie did all those years ago after some imagined slight I’d managed during one of our early dates.
Later the melancholy Rebound and Back To Me and Rebound follows in a similar ‘young love gone wrong path’ path; but is a whole lot more traditionally Country in style and will have them dancing in the aisles whenever played live.
While The Rising will easily fit in alongside The Shires, Jess and The Bandits etc. they certainly have their very own take on what they do; with influences like Chrissie Hinde and maybe even Debbie Harry coming through songs like Just Another Name and Roundabouts as much as Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert do on the exciting Take a Hint and the melancholic and love lorn Even If The Stars Fall For You.
After listening to this album on and off over the last few weeks it’s apparent that this trio who wrote or at east had a hand in writing every song here; write from the heart and their own experiences, both biter and sweet.
Which brings me to the RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’ accolade which has caused some friction in our house; as when I told my beloved that With You was by far the most outstanding song here; as it combines ‘all that is good about Traditional Country Music’ but with a ‘delightful modern twist’ she looked at me as if I’d gone mad, because the ‘delightful heartbreaker’ Love Is is the ‘best love song’ she has heard in years.
Experience tells me she who must be obeyed must be correct (even when she’s wrong!)…..so let’s call it a tie.
While a very commercial release by our normal standards; I have thoroughly enjoyed MOVING ON in the same way I enjoyed the first Shires album; and it’s an exhilarating pleasure to see and hear another rising musical talent coming out of Nor’n Ireland and hopefully onto the World’s stage.
Released 3rd August 2018
Country Legend Shows the Hip Young Gunslingers How To Write and Sing Americana.
It’s odd to think that to me Jim Lauderdale was actually a ‘discovery’ at SummerTyne 2017!
This is his 30th full length album in a career that spans……well, I will be diplomatic and just say ‘a long time’; but he really did only hit my radar last year with two great concerts at Sage Gateshead and that wonderful London Southern album.
With so many great songs already under his belt it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Lauderdale just ‘phoned it in’ these days; but hey……this guy is a Professional and as the title song TIME FLIES, which opens the record proves, he can still not just write a cool contemporary song but deliver it in his own distinctive manner better than most of those hip young gunslingers that the music press slavishly adore these days. Time Flies is another timeless slice of Country/Americana music that could have easily been released in the laid back Country Rock days of the 70’s or 80’s; but his whip smart lyrics sound so very apt today to my ageing ears.
Jim can still turn his hand to what used to be C&W but we now know as Countrypolitan, most noticeably with the slow drawl of When I Held The Cards, the two-stepping Wild On Me Fast and of course the magnificent When The Cars Go By Fast, which is Country as Country gets these days, with a raggedy fiddle, some razor sharp pedal steel and a gloriously ghostly backing vocal from Lillie Mae Rische.
There are guests aplenty in the background (Chris Scruggs, Kenny Vaughan and Jay Weaver to name but three) but TIME FLIES is all about Jim Lauderdale as a songwriter AND Singer, with my priority certainly being the latter.
I’ve grown to love Jim’s voice in the last year; as it’s so distinctive and expressive as he gives relatively simple songs like Violet and It Blows My Mind a personality and gravitas I don’t think anyone else could achieve.
In the glorious tradition of Country music Jim isn’t afraid to have a bit of fun too, with the inclusion of the delightfully twee Slow as Molasses and the toe-tapping shuffle of While You’re Hoping; which will surely both go on to become staples of his concerts.
Then of course there has to be a Favourite Song, doesn’t there? For a few days I was definitely going to choose the finale, a gorgeous Country ballad that defies time and maybe even genre….. If The World Is Still Here Tomorrow; but the aspiring hipster in me is going for the Honky-Tonky, rolling and rocking Wearing Out Your Cool which may or may not be written about me! Probably not methinks; but I’m pretty sure Lauderdale has someone specific in mind; even if it’s not your favourite Rocking Magpie!
Unlike most of his contemporaries in Nashville Town these days, Lauderdale doesn’t live in the past bemoaning the passing of time since their glory days writing songs for Country Radio. Time moves on with indecent haste and Jim Lauderdale has adapted to the new Countrypolitain and Americana movements better than anyone else of his generation that I can think of.
Released August 3rd 2018
AMONG THE GHOSTS
Southern Rockers That Come At You Like a Rusty Switch-Blade in a Bar Fight.
Hailing from Memphis and lauded across the South of the USA, Lucero have never been the most regular of visitors to these shores, so I’ve only ever seen them once……but what a show! A show that remains in my Top 10 of all time.
That was all a long time ago; and it pains me to say so……but I don’t actually own any of their previous records…..so…..can they replicate any of that sweaty energy on disc?
Of course they can!
The title track AMONG THE GHOSTS opens things up like a rusty switch-blade in a bar fight; with Ben Nichols alternating between growling and howling on a dirty slice of Gothic flavoured Southern-Rock, that both frightens and delights.
Because I can’t really remember any of those songs that sweaty and beery night in the Cluny, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the actual songwriting and stories contained in all of these powerful rockers.
I’m sure the band will let loose when they play Cover Me and For The Lonely Ones but alongside Everything Has Changed there is a restrained power that keeps threatening to let loose; but is constantly reigned in like a cowboy breaking in a wild pony.
As a ‘man of a certain age’ two bands from my past appear to cast a shadow over AMONG THE GHOSTS; and that’s Bob Segar and Bon Jovi, with Lucero using acoustic guitars and a piano in a way I’ve not heard for decades to supplement their trademark ‘sound’ on Back To The Night and the wonderful Rock Ballad Always Been You; which even Mrs Magpie likes.
I’ve loved playing this in the car with the windows down, yet the two songs that tie for ‘Favourite Song’ status are both very gentle and incredibly well written, demanding that the listener stops what they are doing and actually concentrates on the music itself.
I didn’t recognise it, but Loving is a reworking of of Ben Nichols theme tune to the wonderful film of the same name and is now one of those delightfully gentle ballads that a Rock band uses to get their breath back just before they let rip on their encores. Turn the lights down low and just wallow in the world weary beauty that Lucero has created just for you, and no one else.
The other is a very special song indeed, as To My Dearest Wife is based on some letters that Civil War soldiers wrote to their loved ones back at home; but more poignantly sounds like it could be about some young man today sitting in a tent somewhere he can’t find on a map without GPS; and while he tries to calm her nerves he can barely contain his fears as the band crank up the mood to a cloud busting crescendo.
The night I saw Lucero the audience was predominately made up of males, over 45 with greying hair and pronounced beer paunches; but on this album there are plenty of songs that will appeal to the females of the species and even a younger male and female demographic who love Classic Rock but are intimidated missed out on seeing the likes of Lynard Skynard, Bon Jovi or The Silver Bullet Band in the clubs, like we did.
Released August 3rd 2018