Hahahahaha…… there was very nearly an embarrassing mix up with this review; as I was reading a Press Release for something completely different as I played the album; and for the life of me couldn’t hear ‘duelling guitars’ or ‘duets of Gram and Emmylou proportions’…….. in any of the four songs I had written about! Thankfully I’m back on track now; and this album and review are both ‘The Real Deal’! As soon as you hear Bolander’s ‘world weary’ and greasy voice when it enters the fray on opening track Closer to the Flame you know you are in the presence of a really special singer. A claustrophobic Rock Ballad that straddles everyone from the Allman’s through Fleetwood Mac and Bob Seger with consummate ease; and he even throws in a cello just to give it some double-extra pathos too! In today’s market Eric Bolander is 100% Americana, with epic tales of life’s struggles, drug addiction, love, losing and winning back, as well as being ‘on the road’ but this guy most certainly has one foot back in the Classic Country Rock world I first inhabited back in the 1980’s and proudly wears that on his big heart. Bolander’s songwriting is extraordinary at times; as his use of metaphors spun my head at times; but also made me take copious notes for future reviews (wink). Check out Fly and Maybe I and you will hear words and melodies that defy the Kentuckian’s lowly place in the world of Country Music. While there’s a ‘big production’ on many of the songs here; it only ever supports Bolander’s stories and characterful voice; with The Road and Ghost being perfect examples of a singer and Producer being in perfect tune with each other. This also gives the album a sense of the highs and lows in his and our lives with some of the simpler acoustic songs really, really tugging on the heartstrings; with Whisper and the brooding and almost Southern Gothic Ghost both being worthy contenders for my Favourite Song accolade; perhaps one will get that title next week, when I listen again. I didn’t want to do this; especially as Eric Bolander is an exceptional songwriter in his own rite; but the actual winner of the Favourite Track stakes is his adaptation of Purple Rain; turning it into a belting Country Rocker without ever losing or tampering with any of Prince’s delicate nuances. I had been lost in the first four verses before I realised what song I was actually listening to; which is testament to Bolander’s richly expressive voice; and anyone who thinks adding a banjo to a Prince song should listen to this; and realise the diminutive one missed a trick on the original! There’s not a lot else to say really; I’m so happy that Eric Bolander and his album THE WIND are now in my life and I have the opportunity to share it with you guys and girls……. enjoy; you’re welcome.
I’ve been having ‘one of those mornings’ doing grown-up things, like sorting out my Embezzled Pension, finding a new Life Insurance Policy, finishing off some ironing and reminding Son #1 that it’s his Mam’s birthday next week….. making me all harassed, when this belting slice of Southern/Country Rock arrived in the e-mail. It’s pretty much exactly what I needed and will go straight into the Summer ‘Driving’ playlist for the car. Being busy I didn’t read the Press Release until I’d played it three times…… WHAAAATTTT? These guys are from London? London, England? No way dude! If it’s true; and I have no reason to doubt the source……. Brit -Country has some Stars in the Waiting! This is pretty damn authentic Classic Country Rock that sounds like it comes from Alabama or Memphis, not Croydon or Kensal Green! Apparently there’s an album in the offing, and if this is the starter then the main course is going to be like a red raw T-Bone steak; and I can’t wait.
Admit it; if you were in a record store and saw an album called Tennessee Alabama Fireworks by a guy called Boo Ray you’d pick it up, wouldn’t you? I thought so…… and then you’d probably ask the assistant if you could hear a couple of tracks? Trust me, as soon as you hear the pedal-steel that opens the catchy Truckin’ Tune; A Tune You Can Whistle it would have you reaching for your wallet; and when Boo Ray’s raspy vocals trample all over the Twangy geetar you would be throwing your cash across the counter and not waiting for the disc to put in a bag! Well; that’s how I felt. Boo Ray? I’ve not heard of him before; but that’s obviously my loss as he puts the Americana into Ameripolitan or whatever we are calling Country Music these days. He’s got a mighty clever way with words, as he croons all over the mellow ballad Honky Tonk Dream, then kicks up a storm on the apologetic love song 20 Questions without letting you catch your breath. I haven’t checked, but I picture Boo Ray hiding behind a big ole pair of Aviator glasses; possibly even the Elvis type as he hides his tears on Gone Back Down to Georgia and the heartbreaking We Ain’t Got The Good too. To all intents and purposes Don’t Look Back and Out Run the Wind is the type of Country Music you pray to hear in a bar on a Tuesday night, when there are more people on stage than in the audience, and those who are there, are there because they don’t want to go home; and Boo Ray sings from the heart just for them. All of these songs could easily find their way onto those shiny albums that those guys with designer stubble and made to measure Stetson hats bring out every few weeks; but none of them can find the pathos in She Wrote the Song the way Boo Ray does; and when he sings, “it’s the pain pills that took away my sweetheart/ it gives me cold chills/ I think I’m gonna leave a star.” you will have cold chills yourself. The biggest surprise for me here; is that the songs come in at 6, 7, 8 or even 9 minutes long; but don’t worry that this is a Prog whig out….. not in the slightest; Boo Ray just lets his songs breathe and develop in a way very few others are allowed these days; and my own favourite song Skin & Ink which closes the disc is a mighty 8 minutes and 19 seconds long; but like everything that has gone before it…… not a single word or note shouldn’t be there. If you are of my generation and discovered Country Music via the Country Rock acts of the late 70’s and 80’s like the Allmans, Skynard or Creedence then this album is meant for you. Great songs, sung with passion and from the heart by a leathery voice and a band that has the ability to stop your heart on a whim.
Fiery Country-Punk With a Side Order of Kick Ass Mariachi!
I really don’t know how they do it; but the home of Insurgent Country, Bloodshot Records has found another gem here……The Vandoliers! Even before I’d read the Press Release I correctly guessed that these, self proclaimed ‘Converse Cowboys’ must come from Texas; because where else would this fearsome hybrid possibly come from, and indeed they actually hail from Fort Worth. Last week I played 5 or 6 tracks over a couple of days in the car; and today dressed in a Trucker Cap, a Big Damn Band t-shirt, mirrored Wayfarers and not having shaved for two days I was looking for something to play on a road trip to ‘oil country’ in Teeside, when I remembered this album. So metaphorically pushing the cassette into the player (my trusty i-phone actually) I set off on my journey; and within two minutes of Miles and Miles my Renault Laguna morphed into a Dodge Ram and I was now travelling along the blacktop of Texas with the machine cranked up to TEN. With a million Alt,Country Rock bands on the circuit you have to be pretty special to stand out these days; and The Vandoliers do that not just with some great songs but they incorporate a good old fashioned fiddle player and a Mariachi style brass section to compliment a singer with a voice that you aren’t born with; but comes from a hard life fronting bands in noisy bars, and a guitarist who out Slash’s Slash, plus a rhythm section that can slide seamlessly between romantic balladry and full on machine gun RAWK with consummate ease and skill. That’s the background; but what about the songs? Every one is a 24 carat diamond! All on Black and Bottom Dollar Boy are both very clever takes on the ‘bad luck’ theme we know and love; but you ain’t heard nothing like this ‘sound’; and they add fresh ‘magic dust’ to a tale of life on the road with Shoshone Rose; making being in a band playing dive bars sound quite romantic. I guess that’s what I love about these songs; lead guitarist, singer and songwriter Joshua Fleming brings a new spirited and even spunky approach to all the things we take for granted in Country Music. Sixteen Years appears to detail the band’s or at least singer Travis Curry’s torrid and tragic career to get to today fronting the coolest band this side of the Rio Grande. There was no better soundtrack to today’s car journey that Nowhere Fast, which now sits alongside Bruce and Chuck Berry on my ‘driving playlist’. Not everything here is fast and furious; The Vandoliers can do ballads too, with Travis Curry making his fiddle gently weep on Tumbleweed and using the metaphor Cigarettes in The Rain for a fragile and troubled relationship is almost genius, and certainly tear inducing. Then there is my Favourite Song…… one which caught my attention last week; and because of events during the intervening few days made Troublemaker my current anthem! Combining the Mariachi brass of Ring of Fire, the fiddle from the Devil Went Down To Georgia with a backing band that sound like something from Sun Records on Meth and a singer who sounds like Billy Idol in a Cowboy Hat on a song about someone who could get into an argument in a phone box, only goes some of the way to describe this amazing track! In these complicated days when it’s hard to know what really constitutes ‘Country Music’, I’m going to point you towards this album…… it will appeal to Cow Punks and Old School Cowboys and Cowgirls, Hipster Alt. Country fans and anyone who just vaguely likes quality, well written, interesting and classy but righteously ragged Rock and Roll!
Ryan Bingham American Love Song Axster Bingham Records
Authentic, Heartfelt, Introspective and Gold Plated Country Rock.
With a four year gap between albums I’m not sure where Ryan Bingham fits into today’s Country Music pantheon…….. Country? Nu-Country? Ameripolitain? Country Rock? I sure don’t know, but he’s certainly still got everything there needs to be the Cover Star on all of the magazines and radio; but the industry sadly has a very short memory. That said; his current European Acoustic tour appears to be in Sold Out Halls everywhere he appears. So, on to his sixth album and only third we’ve reviewed (the others were Junky Star and Tomorrowland in my magazine days) and after two days I think it could be his *Spoiler Alert …… his best to date. The quirky Honky-Tonky Jingle and Go opens the album and your feet will be tapping and shuffling from the get go, and by the third time you hear it you will be mouthing along with the chorus. He’s back……. and on fine form! You’ve hardly got time to catch you breath when Bingham cranks up the pace (and volume) for a spirited Country Rocker, of the Deluxe variety with Nothing Holds Me Down, which features some really dirty guitar playing too by the way! To some degree, for me at least there are surprises around every corner…… there’s an authentic and what sounds like deeply personal Country Blues song that will send shivers down your spine; Got Damn Blues; and the album closes with another swig from the same Mason Jar, Blues Lady (which may or may not be about Janis Joplin) and both hinting at Ryan immersing himself in The Stones Exile on Main St. album over the last few years. The stripped back Wolves, which was a single last year is here again and finds Ryan looking back on a stormy childhood in a very poetic manner; and one a lot of other similar songwriters could learn from. Maybe it’s the mood I’m in today; but the slow and brooding acoustic tales have really touched my soul, especially the brittle love songs Lover Girl Beautiful & Kind, which show a new found maturity in both Bingham’s writing but his delivery too. At first it sounded in a similar vein, as it’s acoustic but when you listen intently to the final song America you hear a man who feels real pain for the state his country finds itself in; and the helplessness it leaves him and millions of others in. I could be wrong, but it’s a song so powerful it will probably find its home in Europe as opposed to the heartlands of America itself. I hop I’m wrong. Because the album is what it is, flitting back and forth between introspective acoustic songs and foot stompin’ Rockers, I’m going for one of each as my Favourite Songs here (but you could really stick a pin in and find a winner!)……. Pontiac is a full on Country Rocker that conjures up all of the magical and romantic images that I’ve grown up with from Bruce, Little Feet and The Burritos to name but three, and this gem sits up there with the very best. The first time I heard Stones I took for granted that it was a Gram Parsons song; but nope this is Ryan Bingham at his most haunting and very, very best. Since his last album Bingham has tragically lost both parents which has obviously taken it’s toll on him; but as a songwriter he get the opportunity to work out his demons in music and prose; sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively and very few have done that better than Ryan Bingham does with American Love Song from start to immaculate finish.
It’s always baffled me as to why some songwriters have the ability to make their songs sound as if you’ve known them all your life, although it was only 40 minutes ago you first placed the platter onto the turntable. Such is the way with Hayes Carll’s sixth album What It Is. I only discovered his talents two years ago via the Lovers & Leavers album; which made me buy a couple of his earlier albums as downloads. If you’ve ever seen the film or read the book High Fidelity, you’ll know that one of the things the guys in the shop like doing is making lists, and a popular one is ‘Great Opening Tracks’ and I’m going to throw None’ya into that hat! On most other albums this terrific song about a crumbling relationship would easily be my Favourite Track; but it actually doesn’t even make the Top 3 on this disc! I have to say I wasn’t quite prepared for the punchy Rock & Roll of the second song Times Like These! After three or four plays it hit me that it’s actually quite a political song; with a wild Jerry Lee Lewis vocal performance and a very danceable melody too. Two songs in and you already have your head spun 360 degrees; as Hayes Carll shows his rare talent as both a solo performer and a bandleader too. I guess it would be quite some late night argument as to whether Hayes Carll is first and foremost a singer or a songwriter. I think on this album it’s actually a score draw; as I can’t remember him singing any better than on the Honky Tonking Rocking & Rolling Beautiful Thing or the swinging Country-Folk of American Dream, which is also full of pithy observations of the country he now finds himself living in. Then again his songwriting (or co-writing……. my Advance copy doesn’t say who wrote what; but Matraca Berg, Adam Landry and Allison Moorer are in the mix here somewhere too) is more mature and possibly more observational than I remember; with If I May Be So Bold and the gentle love song I Will Stay being prime examples of someone at the very top of their game. If you want a Country song that will break your heart, look no further than Be There; it’s one of the very few I’ve heard in recent years that isn’t ‘paint by numbers’ and the way it builds and builds via a tight band and an orchestra, reminds me of Buddy Holly’s transition from straight forward Rock n Roller into Superstar territory, and speaking of Country songs……. Carll even makes me like the banjo again via the sparkling title track What It Is; although with a song this good he could bang a dustbin lid and I’d still like it. Being the contrary so & so I am I can’t choose None’ya as my Favourite Song nor the immaculate Jesus & Elvis …. because everyone else will; as well as them being the songs you will hear on the wireless; no…… I’m going left of centre with Fragile Men, which somehow mixes all kinds of weird elements via a pedal-steel, a violin encased inside a big cinematic orchestral shroud; a’la Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits; and leaves you gasping for breath. The song that immediatly follows, Wild Pointy Finger doesn’t have that orchestral backdrop; but just like Fragile Men takes us into unknown territory for an Americana songwriter; and one he appears to revel in! On the one hand this is possibly Hayes Carll’s most commercial album to date; but when you peel away the veneer it’s very much a turning point and heralds a glorious future for this very accomplished young man.
Bob Livingston Up The Flatland Stairs Howlin Dog Records
West of Bakersfield and East of Nashville.
With so much music floating around the ether I can’t possibly know everyone’s back catalogue when I receive a new album, and in the case of living in NE England this is especially so when it’s Country Music in most of its guises. Yet I can still feel disappointed at not knowing singer-songwriters like Texan Bob Livingston. His CV includes stints in the Lost Gonzo Band, touring the Middle East (and beyond) and being friends and writing buddies with Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jerry Jeff Walker and a host of other Austin and Nashville names from my record collection. Hey ho; enough about me. A mournful harmonica opens Bob’s sorrowful rendition of Jerry Jeff Walker’s Shell Game on the first track here and my heart immediatly began to melt, as the singer delves deep into our souls. That’s only one of three songs by someone else amid the 17 that make up Up The Flatland Stairs and alongside the dirty Twang of David Halley’s A Month of Somedays and the late Walter Hyatt’s gorgeously laid-back The Early Days show’s what immaculate and diverse taste Livingston has; but that’s not what got him inducted into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame! That would be the way he can spin from the Western Swing of Public Domain through the Honky Tonkin’ on the tongue in cheek break-up song You Got My Goat and round it all off with some good old fashioned West Coast Country Rock with Caution to the Wind and That’s The Way Things Go (featuring Eliza Gilkyson no less) and make them all go together like peaches and cream. There really is a little bit of everything ‘Country’ here, with Livingston’s warm and friendly voice being the golden thread that pulls everything together. While I hear a bit of the Bakersfield Sound in The Early Days and Cowgirl’s Lullaby I sense Bob Livingston’s Soul lives on the West Coast; as most of the songs here are designed to make you want to kick back and wallow in the emotions that are stirred up with a beer in one hand and your first love’s hand in the other. With so much to pick from selecting my Favourite Song wasn’t ever going to be easy; but the touchingly Guy Clark Influenced It Just Might Be Your Loving caught my ears last week; and it’s only got better and more intimate over the last few days. Bob Livingston is a brand new discovery to me and as such; is the driving force behind the website……. bringing the best from the shadows into the daylight. You’re welcome.
Cool West Coast Country Music For Driving Long Distances.
Ted Russell Kamp is one of those names and I’m sure even ‘one of those faces’ that will get music fans scratching their chins thinking “Where do I know him from?” Well; primarily he’s been Shooter Jennings bassist since 2004 and he’s toured with and appeared on albums by ‘name’ artists as long as your arm too. With all that in mind it’s staggering to think that this is his 11th solo outing! Where does he find the time? Thankfully he does find the time, because right from the bouncy Rocking Country Twang of opening track Home Away From Home right through to Country Rock of finale Roll On Through The Night his class and quality shines through with every word and note. I really don’t know what has impressed me most here, the songwriting? Heart Under Pressure (Co-write with Jaime Wyatt) and Freeway Mona Lisa would have hipster critics drooling if they were on trendy albums by guys in fashionably battered trucker caps and designer stubble; but here they just help shore up even better songs around them. When I were but a lad, a DJ called Dave Lee Travis on Radio 1 played the likes of the The Eagles, Doobie Brothers and Creedence long before they became Stars; and called it ‘Driving Music’ and that’s what I guess these delightful and well crafted Modern/Alt. Country songs are to me……. when I’ve had this album; and in particular We Don’t Have To Be Alone, Get Off The Grid and the oh so lonesome sounding Just About Time For a Heartache the miles just fly by. While I appreciate the hard work that goes into writing and recording, Ted manages to give both Less Thinkin’/More Drinkin’ and Written in Stone an effortless sense of cool; which is quite an achievement. Speaking of skillful songwriting we have to jump back to the beginning for the two songs that tie for the title of ‘Favourite Song’ here; track #2 Paid By The Mile (co-write with Sam Morrow no less!) is cracking song about the trials and tribulations of a touring musician who if he got paid ‘a dime for every line on my face’ or a ‘nickel for every song he tried to write’ and ‘if he only got paid by the mile’ his life and bank account would be a whole lot more healthier! This followed by This Old Guitar which is probably even a companion piece, as it’s very much a songwriter’s song that will touch other musicians more than fans like me; but when Ted sings, “When you play rock and roll long enough, the blues is what you get” You know exactly how he feels and where he’s coming from. WALKIN SHOES has been like a breath of fresh air this week, with Ted Russell Kamp creating a cracking album that criss-crosses all of the strands we can think of in Country music with consummate ease and skill. Plus these songs are capable of sounding right at home in your local bar or on the stage of some gigantic hall in front of 10’s of thousands.
Matthew Logan Vasquez Trailer Park Dine Alone Records
HEY! HEY! HEY! We loved Delta Spirit and here’s the news……. singer Matt Vasquez is releasing his third solo album in March 2019 and he’s letting RMHQ launch first single TRAILER PARK……. and we couldn’t like it more if we’d stumbled on it by accident. Feast your ears…… in readiness for the release of LIGHT’N UP on March 29th.
Southern Rock That Will Kick Your Butt and Break Your Heart
OH BOY, OH BOY, OH BOY! Have I been waiting to tell you about this doozy of an album! This is another CD that arrived way before Christmas, therefore allowing me plenty of time to play it at leisure (and a few times for leisure alone and not as a review session) and the time has finally come to release it out into the wild. As always we start with the opening track, and late one fateful November night I slipped the disc into the car stereo, not knowing what to expect and BANG…. I was instantly whisked back to the mid-1970’s and watching some hirsute band of bewhiskered ne’er do wells, invariably wearing flared jeans, baseball shirts, waistcoats and either Converse Chuck Taylor’s or Cowboy boots on the Whistle Test. At least one would be sporting a battered Stetson hat too……. you can’t even imagine how exciting and exotic such a sight was in my tiny mining village. And the music???? Southern Rock they called it; and it changed my life. When you hear the staggering twin guitars, diesel powered bass n drums and Wes Baylis’s grizzled and chiselled voice on opening track All Of These Years, you too will have the dust blown from the last 40 odd years and you will be a teenager all over again. For me this album has been as exciting as anything I heard way back when, with powerhouse songs like Blind Lover and Compared To a Soul both adding a 21st Century spark to a Classic sound that I thought had gone out of fashion years ago. The band’s Country Roots come to the fore a couple of times too, with Anna Lee being a tight as a drum Bakersfield diversion and the dark instrumental Red River (The Fall of Jimmy Sutherland) will surely be the intro to any encores the band play on tour. Just to show their combined versatility there’s a tearjerker of a Rock Ballad hidden away in the middle; Wherever You Are, and it could easily be the type of song to play out over the credits of some moody Crime thriller set in an edgy town somewhere in the Southern States and starring someone like Woody Harrelson or Sean Penn as the world weary cop or PI. To ‘get’ where The Steel Woods are coming from there’s a hefty clue in the songs they’ve chose to cover and what they do to them; Sabbath’s Changes is virtually unrecognisable as an intense Country Soul ballad, yet Townes Van Zandt’s The Catfish Song becomes a sultry Roadhouse Boogie, and then the Allman’s Whipping Post gets slowed down to become a dirty sounding love song and Tom Petty’s Southern Accents which closes the album is now an epic Hymn to the South that will take your breath away. Another cover came very close to being my Favourite Song here. The last couple of times I’ve heard Merle’s Are The Good Times Really Over? it’s sounded a bit dated and tiresome; but these guys give it a fresh lick of paint and oddly enough make it sound very apt for the US of A in 2019. But, there are two self-penned songs that take that Merle’s ‘message’ and run hell for leather to the touchdown zone ……. Rock That Says My Name is the first time I’ve encountered Southern Gothic in the Rock scene; but this epic tale could be about the singer himself or the country he so obviously loves. An exceptional piece of songwriting, make no mistake. The other is the title track Old News, which slows things down and takes the guys into singer-songwriter territory; but this gives the listener the opportunity to stop dancing and actual listen to their prescient words like: ” You can hate all the others because they hate you They hate the thought of you hating them too We could scream it all out ’til we’re red, white, or blue But I’d hate to think that thinking is old news, old news” Or “Let’s sing for Miss Liberty And the crack in her bell There’s a tear in Her eye But her arm hasn’t fell Yet the weight of her torch Comes with blood that’s been spilled.” Yep; Old News is by far my Favourite Song here and will undoubtedly become an anthem for their fans at every concert they ever play. This is The Steel Woods second album and the band claim it to be nearer they sound they’ve always wanted to deliver…….. and they have done that quite admirably and with Class too; and you will think so too.