A Beautiful and Rich Voice plus Powerful Songs that Cross The Country-Blues Divide.
WOW! That’s all you need to know……nah…… just kidding! WOW! Honestly; that’s how I felt the first time I played this album as each song unfurled before me last week. Now I find myself having to do a critique and I’m nearly ‘lost for words’! Yes…..ME! The opening stanza on first track The Lonely Talking is partly fascinating and spellbinding in equal measure. As you know I hold great stead in a powerful opening track; and this one hit me square across the nose leaving me dizzy and seeing stars. Alice Wallace sounds like a heady mix of Bobbie Gentry, Stevie Nicks and Beth Hart, as she pleads like a Country siren with a heart full of S.O.U.L. I hate it when I go back to the Press Release and find that this is Alice’s fourth album, with each previous one gaining very, very favourable reviews…….so why have I not discovered her until now? The next track, Santa Ana Winds is a scary and gut wrenching tale of the devastating fires that covered California last year; and Alice Wallace captures every nuance of the drama with her amazing evocative and soaring voice. One of the great joys of this album is the crystal clear way Alice delivers each and every song; while somehow leaving When She Cries and the Rootsy The Same Old Song simply dripping with raw emotion. Desert Rose is both windswept and interesting as this torrid tale of a young Mother trying to cross the Border with her baby to make a better life for them both unfolds like a Steinbeck short story. Oh dear; what a dilemma I have had choosing a Favourite Song. Do I go for the scorching ‘Cowboy Ballad’ Echo Canyon or the intricate singer-songwriter fayre of The Blue or the epic Top of the World? It’s actually boiled down to a ‘best of three’coin toss between the warm and tender love song Motorcycle Ride (mostly because they ride a Moto Guzzi!) and the starkly evocative Elephants which is probably where my coin is landing on; as it sounds like the type of song Joni Mitchell would write today, if she was just turning 30. While ‘my favourite song’ is primarily some kind of Feminist Anthem; just like every other song here Alice Wallace’s sensitive handling of the ‘edgy’ subject matter makes them all accessible to music lovers of all ages, sexes and colours too.
A Dreamy and Laid Back Country Soul Soundtrack To Summer.
I fell in love with this album over the Christmas holidays; and it’s a good job I have a good imagination because it’s going to be my soundtrack to the Summer! The laid back groove of opening song When Comes The Morning sets the mood just perfectly, with Lewis’s warm Knoxville drawl and the bands uber-mellow backing taking you on a lazy trip to the land of Dobie Gray, Little Feet and James Taylor; if such a Valhalla exists. The first time I tried to write this review I was wearing headphones, and by the time I got to Talk About It I had to give in to temptation and just kick back and listen ‘for fun’……which is something I don’t do often enough these days. It will be all too easy to let these mellifluous melodies draw you in like the sirens of old; but Lewis’s songwriting and storytelling is every inch just as majestic on his third full length album; none more so than the swinging title track Loversity and the richly observant (People Fall Hard) Living Easy which will set the hairs on the back of your neck on end if you listen closely. There are two cover songs here; neither of which I knew, but show what excellent and astute taste Sam Lewis has. Loudon Wainwright’s Natural Disaster with it’s stinging guitar solos and punchy drumming was an early contender for Favourite Track status; and the delightful Accidental Harmony by Sam’s friend and fellow Nashville songwriter John Mann has the ability to make to ‘accidentally sing along to the chorus’ when your wife is asleep in the passenger seat! Selecting an actual Favourite Song has been as easy as it’s been difficult; as everything here has its merits and many will find their way onto several playlists for the Summer; but I’m going to stick my neck out and say Some People, with Sam sounding uncannily like a young Sam Cooke will be one of those songs that will crop up on the radio (or bloody Spotify!) and make you go “Ooh! Who is that?” Which really is the hallmark of a great song and even greater singer too, isn’t it? I’ve discovered this album just as I’ve been involved in two heated debates, with one being about ‘the death of the album and CD’; which is patently nonsense when fully formed 14 track albums like this are available and will find themselves being bought and cherished by fans for years to come – disposable music this most definitely ain’t!! The other was a side-bar during one of my many ‘ Spotify is the tool of the Devil’ tirades! With only constant touring and selling merch at those gigs or from your own website being the only way for artists to make a living in this technological age; Sam Lewis is a perfect example of my argument as for the first ten years of his mildly succesful musical career he also worked full time at Wallmart; and it was only that ‘little bit of luck’ that fell his way during the week of a second interview for a job at the Post Office in 2015 when he was also offered the support slot on a Chris Stapleton tour and, as they say, he gave up the day job and the rest is history! OK this isn’t quite A Star is Born; but I’m sure Sam Lewis must have had many moments when he thought ‘is it all worth it?’…… thankfully he has persevered and pure talent is finally winning through.
Velvet Covered Country-Soul with a Barbed Centre For the Lonely and Lovelorn.
I’m not even sure if he’s ever played in the NE of the UK but Luke Winslow-King is one of the few RMHQ Favourites that we have still to see playing live; and that’s a list of three now Leonard Cohen has died.
Anyway, onto his latest album Blue Mesa which has been on and off the ‘metaphorical’ Office Record Player for a couple of months now; often working as something of a ‘pallet cleanser’ in between lonesome singer-songwriters and feisty Blues bands; but because of work commitments is only getting reviewed on its day of release…..sorry guys.
When you are about to slide the shiny disc into your player you only have two choices to make before pressing play; and they depend on the time of day because to get the best out of this album you need to kick back and a) keep the coffee coming or b) sip something long, smooth and alcoholic……it’s that type of album.
Opening track You Got Mine finds Luke smoothly criss-crossing Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak territory with ease on a breathtaking ballad that rolls around some magnificent organ playing from Mike Lynch and a couple of searing guitar solos from long time collaborator Roberto Luti.
Track #2 Leghorn Woman picks the pace up to ‘stroll and strut’ as that Winslow-King ‘signature sound’ oozes out of the speakers like warm molasses looking for some crackers.
The dark and brooding Better For Knowing You is possibly a ‘bittersweet ‘ love song, but with the emphasis very firmly on ‘love’ as Luke looks back on a lost love with some exceptionally sincere ‘regret’ that will touch every listener’s heart, and make us think back to similar feelings that we couldn’t articulate in such a delicate and honest manner at the time.
When called upon Luke and friends can rock the socks of a song too, as Thought I Heard You proves, which has the organ a’weeping and a’wailing as twin electric guitars sound like a battle between warring Allman relatives; but that’s followed by the divine Gospel flavoured Country-Soul of Breakdown The Walls proving what a talent this guy has in reserve.
Although born and again living in Michigan, Luke has spent the last 10 years in New Orleans and that City and the surrounding countryside certainly appears to have infiltrated his psyche on the gorgeous Born to Roam, Chicken Dinner and After The Rain, which all conjure up romantic images of cruising around the Delta in an open top car with your best gal by your side and no particular place to go and no special time to get there.
Even after all this time I’m struggling to choose a ‘Favourite Song’ as several have suited various moods I’ve been in, but it finally boils down to two and you can only separate them by a cigarette paper, with Farewell Blues, which closes the album being the best song JJ Cale never wrote as Winslow-King takes us on a trip to the bottom of his heart, making it a very close second to the actual title track Blue Mesa which just might be the best song Luke has ever recorded and one of the coolest and refined I’ve heard in a lot of years…….and I’ve heard a lot.
Like a fine wine, there’s plenty of constituent parts that make up this inspired record, but after 5 previous albums I think it’s fair to say Luke Winslow-King has finally found the sound that finally defines him on BLUE MESA making it a bit of a Masterpiece of the genre.
Sublime Pedal-Steel Playing Links an Eclectic Concoction of Songs.
As regular readers will already know, we have very eclectic musical tastes here at RMHQ and, YES we listen to absolutely everything we review and only review what we like…….your eyes would water if you saw the box of un-reviewed albums that goes to Oxfam every Quarter.
Which brings me to this disc by SF Pedal-Steel player Joe Goldmark. First of all the album cover initially caught my attention, but when I flipped it over to look at the track list my eyes nearly popped out of my head…..several of the titles looked familiar, but as sure as ‘God makes little green apples’ weren’t Country Songs; and looking back at Joe in his Stetson and Nudie suit, they must be mustn’t they?
Well….no they ain’t, or at least not all of them are as Joe takes us on a musical merry-go-round with his wonderful pedal-steel playing at the heart of a bunch of songs as eclectic as anything we’ve heard here for years.
Opening track the instrumental Night Flight is a Goldmark original and sounds like the Shadows playing in a Nashville Nightclub on a stormy Winter’s night with Joe guesting behind Hank B the boys, and the result is quite spectacular.
WOAH! After that track I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be followed by the Rufus Thomas dance classic All Night Worker with Glenn Walker supplying a delightful Soulful delivery then Dallis Craft turning Roy Orbison’s A Love So Beautiful into slow burning Country-Soul ballad of epic proportions. Bizarrely a pedal-steel as lead instrument in both situations works perfectly well; who’d have thought it?
Back to basics, Joe Goldmark’s own instrumentals are worth the entry fee alone, with Ginger Ale and Tacky Tango sounding like they are just waiting for some enterprising TV Producer to pick them up as theme tunes; but it’s Joe’s selection of cover versions that makes this album stand out.
Perhaps finding Lefty Frizzell’s Look What Thoughts Will Do here isn’t a huge surprise; but hearing Dallis Craft doing her best Patsy Cline impression is; and the last time I heard The Wobble it was an early James Hunter album and was R&B at it’s rawest yet this version with Glenn Walters again on vocals sounds R&B; but that pedal-steel from Goldmark really steals the show, no matter how hard Gary Potterton tries on his electric guitar.
Then, there are the two songs that initially caught my attention…..Bob Marley’s Natty Dread becomes unrecognisable as a Hawaiian nightclub tango (or something!) but lovely none the less; and then there is one of my favourite ever songs, and it’s a brave man who takes on a Graham Parker song; especially Howlin’ Wind…..but somehow this version, with Ms Dallis Craft crooning her little heart out is easily my favourite track on an album chock full of precious gems.
I wish I had the vocabulary to really describe BLUE STEEL, as the sum total probably outweighs the individual tracks, with Joe Goldmark’s sublime pedal-steel playing being the golden thread that links everything together in a very clever manner indeed; making this a very special package indeed.
SAME AS I EVER HAVE BEEN
Black Hen Music
Southern Soul and Gritty Americana From Arcadian Canada.
My trusty I-Phone has done it again! As I was driving home from work late last Wednesday a beautifully sad and soulful song randomly purred from the car speakers and I had to immediately press ‘repeat’ as soon as it finished; then sat listening to the final minute on my drive as the song played for the fourth time in twenty minutes, before going into the house.
At this stage I won’t say what that song actually was; as it takes on ‘favourite track’ status further down the page.
The following day I quickly cleared my to-do list and settled back to listen to the rest of Matt Patershuk’s third album.
Even before I heard the cranky guitar and Matt’s world weary drawl, I knew I was going to love any song called Sometimes You’ve Got To Do Bad Things, To Do Good; and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. For a Canadian in a Cowboy hat; Patershuk gives a Southern Soul feel to this sweet, sweet Country pearl, and that goes for the majority of what is to follow too.
Recorded in Superstar Bryan Adam’s Vancouver studio; Steve Dawson’s production is flawless from start to finish, even managing to give an authentic ‘first take’ rawness to songs like Cheap Guitar and the effervescent Hot Knuckle Blues.
I still find it funny that Canadians are writing and recording some of the finest Americana music that I hear these days; as the slow and Good Luck proves in spades; and Atlas couldn’t have come from anywhere other than the American Rust Belt, could it? But it certainly does…….Rural Alberta to be precise.
Patershuk’s songwriting and storytelling is quite extraordinary at times with the Country-Funk of Blank Pages and Lost Wages and the waltz-like title track Same As I Ever Have Been being prime examples; but you could throw a dart at the track list and hit a doozy of a song.
Which all brings us to ‘that song’ that first caught my attention; Swans, which actually closes the disc. Regular readers know that I’m a sucker for a Love Song and this one came to me not long after Don Williams died; and could be the best song that ‘the Gentle Giant never wrote.’ A pair of endearing worn and sad voices coupled to an acoustic guitar you can barely hear make for six short minutes of perfection.
Subsequently there’s been another contender for that prestigious title; Memory And The First Law of Thermodynamics may be an absurd title; but the intricate and delicate story, about and dedicated to his late sister Clare is straight from the Guy Clark songbook and will surely bring a tear to a glass eye.
Discoveries like this is the reason I spend far too much time listening to albums by people I and you have never previously heard of, but deserve a huge world wide audience, when their music is as good….nay, great as this collection is.
Country-Soul Songwriter Writes From The Heart For the Broken Hearted.
Arthur Alexander made a good living during the late 50’s and early 60’s writing and recording songs that became huge hits across the Atlantic for British acts from the Rolling Stones to Dusty Springfield and even the Beatles; but as history tells us they then went on to write their own songs leaving the likes of Alexander standing in the shadows.
Eventually as Soul music finally began to evolve from just being about 45RPM singles and moving into LP’s Alexander recorded and released the original version of this album in 1972. Sadly due to a Record Label not knowing how to market such a product it pretty much flopped; with only one song being picked up by an artist as a single, and he didn’t even write it…….Burning Love and the singer……only Elvis Presley!
Alexander soon retired from the Industry until he was getting songs together for another album in 93 when he sadly had a heart attack and died.
So; has this record stood the test of time?
There are some really, really good songs here and a couple of clunkers too….but while the likes of Call Me In Tahiti, Simple Song of Love and Rainbow Road sound twee in 2017, but they were pretty much solid fayre in 72.
I’m Comin’ Home starts affairs in a glitzy manner; and I can just picture Alexander in his suit with huge lapels and even huger flares shuffling and doing big hand movements on some Saturday morning TV show like so many others at that time.
But things get interesting with the next song It Hurts To Want It So Bad; where the big ‘over production’ gets dispensed with and Alexander dips his toe into the soulful singer-songwriter world I associate with Bill Withers, and….damn….this is one cool song.
With the addition of a piano Love’s Where Life Begins follows a similar tract and alongside Down The Backroads which follows shows a talent and a ‘voice’ that was very much in the right place at the wrong time; as this was just about the time when singer-songwriter’s were coming into vogue.
All three of these songs, plus They’ll Do It Every Time and I Don’t Want Nobody from the ‘extras’ could easily still be hits today; for someone like Rod Stewart, Ronan Keating or some X Factor type teen sensation.
Which also brings me to my two favourite songs here; Arthur’s rip-snorting version of Burning Love is obviously a ‘given’; but another favourite from my teenage years makes a mysterious appearance among the Extras.
I have a long and convoluted story of buying Billy Swan’s I Can Help LP, and discovering a gateway to a whole new world and here Arthur Alexander straddles both Country and Soul with a sweeping and swooping version of Lover Please, which may not be to everyone’s taste; but I bloody love it.
This is a fascinating piece of history and with some judicial editing (which you can do yourself on your I Player) makes for a marvelous legacy for a man forgotten by the music industry.
Danny & The Champions of the World
Deeply Insightful Alt. Britainicana For Grown Ups.
After listening to the first single from this album Swift Street on constant rotation for two solid days back in April; my first play of BRILLIANT LIGHT was still a huge surprise….lots of surprise actually and many different feelings prickling my senses across all 18 songs on that first day.
The striking guitar intro to opening track Waiting For the Right Time is trademark Champions of the World and when Danny’s riveting voice floats in like a London fog even the pickiest of music fans would have to sit back and listen to whatever followed; and in this case it’s justly merited. This laid back and sad song is a fascinating way to open proceedings; and it perfectly sets the scene for what is to follow.
The beautifully bittersweet Bring Me To My Knees follows and half way through my bottom lip began to tremble but I managed to fight back actual tears as Henry Senior Jr.’s exquisite pedal-steel playing compliments Wilson’s sad, sad story.
I was only two songs in and worrying that I wouldn’t be able to see it through to the end of all 18 tracks…..yes EIGHTEEN songs and pretty much all of this ilk! 18 song? To fit everything in and let the music flow as it was intended, you can either buy a Double CD, or depending on your ‘hipster values’ an old-fashioned Double LP, or ……and this really exciting, an actual triple CD or LP with an extra two sides of cool instrumentals!
Of The Champions six albums, I have to say this is the least accessible when you first play it; but subsequently the layers and emotions peel away leaving you stunned with the quality of songwriting on Don’t Walk Away and Long Distance Tears; while Wilson show’s a new found maturity in his story telling too, with Never In The Moment and the superb It’s Just a Game (That we were playing) and
I’ve always admired the way Danny can write a song about his childhood ‘memories’ and make the the listener feel he’s writing about them; yet at no time is he ever mawkish. Here the single Swift Street is about ‘three old photos’ of family members but generated memories of my own parents and siblings; and it will bring back similar memories for you too.
There’s always a soulful streak on a Champions album and here Waiting For The Wheels To Come Off is another sad song as is It Hit Me but both are strangely uplifting and as cool and insightful as they’ve ever recorded; but it’s for their quintessentially British take on Americana that we know and love them.
Let The Water Wash Over You (Don’t You Know) is Southern Rock straight out of South London and on The Circus Made The Town; if it wasn’t for Danny’s distinctive voice I would swear I was listening to something recorded in Laurel Canyon circa 1973.
So; favourite track time and it’s not been easy; as there isn’t really a definitive ‘stand out’ song; this is an old fashioned AOR/Grown Up album that you should listen to as a complete ‘work’ but I will point you to Gotta Get Things Right in My Life, not just for the touching lyrics that punched me straight in the heart but also Paul Lush’s staggering guitar parts and the other is the album closer Flying By The Seat of Our Pants which could be not just the Champion’s theme tune but that of RMHQ too.
I’m not sure but history may prove BRILLIANT LIGHT to be Danny and The Champions of the World’s definitive album (or even triple album if you buy that model!)