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.
Country Gold From the Ozark Mountains via The Swamps of Sweden.
This is another one of those albums that arrives unannounced and pretty much unheralded (NO Press Release!); but a cursory listen to the first couple of tracks rushed it right up the ‘to do’ pile! Dave Rosewood doesn’t appear to have a website and his Facebook account is ‘enigmatic’ to say the least; but at least I found out that this is his debut album and came about after leaving the Ozark Mountains to live in Sweden! But…… there’s always the music! It was opening track Seeds that initially caught my attention…… a down home Country song with one foot in Allmans territory and the other firmly rooted in Bakersfield, if I’m not mistaken. There’s some mighty sweet sweet guitar, a maudlin fiddle, a pedal-steel that will break your heart and a rhythm section of industrial strength behind Rosewoods authentic and worn Country voice…… what’s not to like? It’s not apparent how autobiographical songs like the deep and mysterious Oh No More, or Blowin’ Round and Back When are; but that doesn’t matter a jot as Rosewood can write and deliver a song so rich in glorious detail and rustic charm you’d think he’d been typing away on Music Row for decades, before getting this good. While there’s a helluva lot going on behind Rosewood, and it’s quite spectacular on Waitin’ To Be Free and the title track Gold & Gravel; what I like most of all is Rosewood’s astute storytelling and the way he delivers his words with poise, balance and authority via his leathery and worn voice. In the modern way, there aren’t any obvious singles here; but two songs stand out for me, 20 Years is a magnificent tale of a man released from jail and ‘swearing not to return’……. trust me, it could and should turn up on an album by one of Nashville’s ‘hat acts’ who are on the look out for the best Johnny Cash song, that the Man in Black never wrote! The other is the RMHQ Favourite song here; Someday. Apart from saying it’s timeless and stuffed full of harmonies, sublime guitar licks and a military drum and bass that all combine to make me think I could be listening to the Fabulous Burrito Brothers, or maybe The Byrds or is it Alabama or Poco? Nope….. it’s Dave Rosewood and his Swedish mates! I’m no longer sure what Country Music actually is these days, as it appears to have splintered off into a thousand sub-genres; but this album is 100% Pure Damn Country in the spirit of Cash, Merle, Waylon and even the Allman Brothers!
Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson Don’t Let Go (single) Stony Plain Records
I was first told about the new album AMOUR (Feb 8th release) from real life ‘legends’ Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson just before Christmas; and couldn’t have been more excited, so guess how I felt this morning when this wonderful new song arrived in the Internet Post! Here’s all you need to know before listening and then pre-ordering the full album! Stony Plain Records announces a February 8 release date for Amour, a new CD teaming the roots music guitar talents of Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson. The CD was produced by Colin Linden, recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, and features a backing band dubbed “The Tennessee Valentines:” Dominic Davis – bass; Bryan Owings – drums; Fats Kaplin – violin and accordion; and Kevin McKendree – keyboards. Linden and Dickinson recruited a host of Nashville talent as guest vocalists on the new disc, including the legendary Billy Swan, who sings lead on “Lover Please” (a song he wrote, which was recorded and became a classic hit for Clyde McPhatter); as well as songbirds Rachael Davis and Ruby Amanfu; plus two of Linden’s “Nashville” TV series buddies – Sam Palladio (“Crazy Arms”) and Jonathan Jackson (“I Forgot to Remember to Forget”).
“Amour is the first collaboration between Colin Linden (Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and Musical Director for ABC-TV show “Nashville)” and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, Black Crowes) and consists of classic love songs from the Americana world. Both Linden and Dickinson are true veterans of roots music, having played with and produced some of the biggest names in the business, while displaying the mantle of countless awards and accolades to reflect that.
“Most of these songs I have known my whole life, and they reached me in the same way,” says Colin Linden about the album’s origin. “I mentioned the idea of recording them as a collection to my friend Luther Dickinson, who said it was a good idea—and that it would be cool to work on it together. Luther is not only a master musician, but also an artist with a great vision and a soulful, wonderful human being.”
The Delines almost passed me by a few years ago; but out of mild interest I went to see them at the Jumpin’ Hot Club……… and my head nearly exploded with excitement! For me, the legendary Wily Vlautin was just a constituent part as I couldn’t take my eyes off the mesmeric singer Amy Boone; who combined abject shyness with raw star quality; and when she sang…… ooohhheee Mama! So, when this album, which has been four years in the making following a horrific car accident which has necessitated God knows how many operations and skin grafts as well as having to learn to walk again for singer Amy Boone; arrived in the first week of December I immediatly cleared the boards for a whole day when I could immerse myself in ‘the magic’ and ‘magic’ it undoubtedly is! The fiercely atmospheric Lo-Fi opening track Cheer Up Charley really does set the mood for an hour or so of velvet tinged sad songs that will both cheer you up and make you cry; sometimes both at the same time. Vlautin’s songwriting and subject matter is a bit left of centre; but still Country to the core as he places Boone right in the middle of Lonelyville in the title track The Imperial and later; in That Old Haunted Place his tragic words make Amy Boone sound akin to Bobbie Gentry trying to sound like Dusty Springfield; and the result is electrifying. With that in mind; there is a certain Gothic – Lo Fi charm to Let’s Be Us Again and Holly The Hustle, both of which are so deep you soon find yourself wallowing chest deep in their misery and loneliness; but with a rye smile on your face. There’s a ‘wicked irony’ to this style of Country Music; as Vlautin allows you to listen on many levels; but when you start peeling away the layers that make up Eddie and Polly or He Don’t Burn For Me you know you are in the presence of greatness; and that includes the talent interpreting his words in a way that will make your spine tingle. We all know Vlautin to be an accomplished story teller and author; but as I read the lyrics to Where Are You Sonny and/or Waiting On The Blue it’s plain to see; and hear from Boone’s beautiful renditions that he has a Poets soul and way with words. The inclusion of the stark Roll Back My Life transcends any of Vlautin’s previous works by a late night Country mile. The song may or may not be specifically be about Amy’s last few years, but it could be about mine or possibly yours too. Almost Waitsian in context and delivery, it is so atmospheric and gentle you will get lost in it; which is why it is our Favourite Track here; even if it did make me cry. If I were writing for a different publication it would certainly be 5/5 as it is a rare piece of art masquerading as music, unfurling as it does at its own pace, showcasing not just a stellar imagination but a singer, in Amy Boone that conjures up the heartache of Janis alongside the majesty of Dusty and the world weariness of Bobbie; while very much sounding unlike anyone else in the world.
Tom Brumley & The Buckaroos Steelin’ The Show Omnivore Records
A Master-Craftsman Makes His Pedal Steel Guitar Shimmer and Sizzle
What is it with Pedal-Steel guitars that excites me so much? I think I can even recall the night on OGWT that I first saw and heard one…….. subsequently having to ask my brother Melvyn what that magic box was and even over the next ten years or so they were still as rare as hen’s teeth in British Rock & Roll. Yet today, with this disc of pure delights I now have six albums of Pedal-Steel instrumentals in my collection and I’m aware of a 7th on its way in March 2019! To the uninitiated like me Tom Brumley is probably an unknown quantity; but it turns out he was the maestro behind the Buck Owens ‘sound’ during the 1960’s and these 17 glorious tunes are all culled from that golden period of Country & Western music. *He also played in both Chris Hillman’s Band and the Desert Rose Band while also sitting in with scores of household names in the studio during the 1970’s. The album starts with a majestic two-step called Tom Cattin’ that combines some amazing guitar playing from Buck Owens and Red Simpson alongside the 100mph fiddle playing of Don Rich and Brumley’s sublime picking on the steel; and even 50 years later you can feel the excitement from the studio session. That excitement continues throughout; none more so than Seven Come Eleven and Pedal Patter which may even have been groundbreaking in 1968! Unlike today; Country Music was made for dancing to back in the 1960’s and The Buckaroos could turn their hand to whatever it took to get people on the dancefloor be it the Steel Guitar Polka, a Highland Fling or any one of a handful of beautiful waltz’s with the Waltz of the Rose’s being the finest example here; and I’m not sure what a Neosho Waltz was but I love the tune that accompanied it! Choosing a Favourite Track was never going to be easy; although the legendary solo on Together Again, as Buck Owens croons his little heart out is obviously going to be a contender; but as this is primarily an instrumental album dedicated to Tom Brumley I’m going to select Steel Guitar Rag from 1965 as it is a spine tingling showcase of all that is good about Steel Guitar playing and proves what a Master of his craft Tom Brumley surely was.
PS. Gotta love that suit he’s wearing on the cover…….what would I give to look that sharp?
I love Karen Craigie’s back-story, as a one time label manager in Australia, then a venue manager for a chain of UK Nightclubs and now a ‘Full-Time’ Charity worker (chairing boards and committees for children’s services) while also being both a Mum and Foster Mum; so where and when she finds the spare time to be a songwriter that has now recorded three albums is way beyond my comprehension! For an Australian Karen certainly knows her way around both Alt. Country and Americana by the sounds of the sensual Little Heartbreaker which opens the album like a breath of fresh air. There’s something quite refreshing in the way she effortlessly tells her tale of a poisonous teenage love affair. Bottom Line is another tale of a broken love affair, acutely observed and set to a punchy Country melody with Ms Craigie’s warm and breathy vocal delivery having the capacity to make a grown man go weak at the knees. I find it charming that Karen Craigie describes herself first and foremost as a songwriter who sings; while she is most certainly a clever and fascinating songwriter, it’s her gorgeous and distinctive voice that makes the classy title track Mountains of Gold and also the Country Gothic Happy Ending be so memorable. I can’t ‘put my finger on it’ but I somehow picture Karen singing Lonely Town and the haunting Game Face in theatres rather than rough-house bars or Honky-Tonks; perhaps because they demand to be listened to rather than just be the background music to a Saturday night somewhere/anywhere. While certainly being a’Country’ singer-songwriter in her heart, Karen Craigie sits a lot more comfortably alongside Gretchen Peters and Mary Chapin Carpenter than Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson if the deeply intense ‘Til It Gets Done, which closes the album is anything to by; and at times Karen sounds like a coiled spring on High; which could easily be the type of song featured on an album by those first two artistes. Then there’s the song that caught my attention the first night that I half-heartedly listened to Mountains Of Gold; Kill Me Now. OK it’s yet another break-up song of sorts; but there’s something really personal and touching about the way she pours her heart out and lets him know that’it is over; full stop’ even if she alludes to there still being a little flicker of hope, when he “comes around tormenting her/with his funny stories/wearing his old jeans/and singing his stories of love.’ Ha! A lot of ladies are going to associate with these and plenty of other sentiments across these heartbreaking four minutes. While just about every single song here is sad to the core; Karen Craigie’s writing AND singing have made this an absolute joy to listen to, over and over again.
As my Gretchen Peters T-Shirt says; “Sad Songs Make Me Happy.”
I doubt many of my readers will know who Alan Cackett is; but all you really need to know is that he is the man who gave me my first crack at writing reviews in the ‘original’ Maverick magazine many years ago; and following his selection as the 47th Member of the British Country Music Association Hall of Fame last night; I couldn’t be any happier to call him not just my mentor but my friend as well. Here’s what he has to say about his Award and his his life in Country Music.
“I would like to thank the BCMA for selecting me as the 47th member of the British Country Music Hall of Fame. This was most unexpected as I’ve never really been much of a vociferous supporter of the current BCMA set-up and I feel very humbled to have been accorded this accolade when there are so many others more deserving than I, who have been unfairly overlooked over the years. I never got involved in music for fame or fortune, it’s always been about the passion for good music that touches me emotionally. For me it’s all about introducing as many people as possible to good music they’d otherwise miss out on. That’s what continues to drive me. I have little or no time for radio that plays the same old hits; people of my age who harp on about music of today not being as good as the music they grew up with. I believe that the new should co-exist with the old; the young musicians and fans of today should be embraced and guided by us veterans who’ve hopefully got some good advice and encouragement to impart to them. Though I first got involved in music in a professional way in 1966 when I published Country Record Exchange magazine and over the years have contributed to a stack of newspapers and music publications including more than 20 years writing for Country Music People followed by Country Music International and then editing and publishing Maverick; promoted country music tours, festivals and shows, managed artists, run AFC Media & Publicity; and a ceaseless purveyor of CD sleeve notes. country music was still only a part-time interest until 1997 when I finally quit full time employment at the Kent Messenger to pursue my music interest on a 100% basis I had always hoped that I could be involved in the music full-time but there was no way it would pay me a living wage unless I sold my soul, like getting involved with Line Dancing or easy listening country music, or promoting acts and music that I didn’t believe in. The reason I started the magazines, promoted shows, organised tours and festivals was to introduce artists that I believed in. Anyone with a modicum of common sense can promote a Daniel O’Donnel, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton or Willie Nelson show and make money. Promoting lesser-known but equally talented people like Jim Lauderdale, Gretchen Peters, the Haley Sisters, Kim Richey, Alan West, Rod Picot and others is quite a different matter. It takes commitment and passion, and it’s that passion that drives me., The buzz of watching a great artist, and seeing an audience getting that same buzz, is pure magic. Over the years, I know that I’ve upset and offended some people with my somewhat outspoken, but always honest opinions. It grieves me that country music doesn’t have a larger and wider audience in the UK and that we still have to put up with outdated stereotypes, especially from the mass media. I make no secret that I am against music fans dressing up as cowboys. It detracts from the music and fuels the media’s emphasis on the music’s image rather than the quality of the songs and performance. It’s the same reason why I’ve never supported line-dancing. The lyrics of a country song are much more important than bpm. Country music should e aimed at the heart and not the feet! I’ve never followed the conventional way of doing things. I hate bureaucracy and time-wasting. If something needs to be done, make the decision, roll up your sleeves and get on with it. If you succeed all well and good, if it fails, dust yourself off and try again. But don’t spend precious time analysing what went wrong … learn from your mistakes and move on. I’ve always been something of a Maverick … one who thinks and acts in an independent way, never afraid to cross the line of conformity. But I believe that my somewhat unorthodox approach has generally been right … for me the Maverick way has worked! I’ve always endeavoured to support music that I believe in and share that music with as many people as possible to make it more popular and widely accepted. Though I’ve not achieved my aims and objectives in the way that I would have hoped for, I do believe that I’ve made a difference, and for the BCMA to recognise that is extremely gratifying.”
A Cool Soundtrack For a Ride Along The Coast in a 77 Mustang.
Even though this is his 8th album, ‘Guitarist to the Stars’ Randy Casey hadn’t planned on recording a new record until he managed to buy the 1969 Gibson Les Paul he’d learnt to play on back as a teen. As soon as he started playing it, the songs that make up I Got Lucky just kept flowing until he had more than enough to go into the studio! That distinctive Les Paul ‘ggggrrowl’ opens first track Bed Bug Blues just like someone had turned the key in a ’77 Mustang! But the song that follows actually swaggers and smoulders from start to finish; with Casey sliding in some uber-cool solos from the dirty end of the fret-board. The jaunty title track I Got Lucky follows and it’s not easy to decide whether this ‘love song’ is aimed at a young lady of his acquaintance…… or the 69 Les Paul! While this album will no doubt be filed in the ‘Blues Rock’ section; it’s not that simple to pigeon-hole the singer-guitarist as he can settle back on the porch and drop in some down home Delta Country Rock with Little Weed, The Chaperone and the atmospheric Six Feet of Rain; which could easily be some weird Tom Petty/CCR hybrid if I didn’t know any better. On Broken Arm Blues there’s only Casey playing guitar; but I sense more than a hint of The Allman’s or more importantly Duane in the way Randy makes his guitar go from a whisper to a scream with the greatest of ease. Any album revolving around songs written on a Gibson Les Paul has to have a Rocker on it; now doesn’t it? In this case Casey nods to both the Stones and Little Feet at the same time with the simply sizzling One Step Ahead! It’s not clear from the album cover or even the Press Release where Randy Casey comes from; but it’s fair to say his heart is ‘in the South’ when you hear Racing Stripes, That Train and the swinging, rocking AND rolling Soo Line which features some truly scary harmonica from “Pinetree” Paynich. When it comes to selecting a Favourite Track there could only be one song for me; and it’s a slow as molasses Chicago Blues tune that had me stomping my foot in time with, not just Aaron Bergstrom’s heavy-heavy bass; but my head too as I couldn’t, and still can’t resist nodding my head along to the beat on the sublime New Old Landlord Blues. It’s pointless listing all the albums Randy Casey has played on or the bands he’s toured with; but suffice to say I guess he’s learnt a ‘little bit’ from everyone concerned; and that long apprenticeship pays off in bundles right the way through this fabulous album. # BTW it’s quickly apparent that not every song here features that 69 Gibson Les Paul; but it’s always there in spirit.
Lone Justice The Western Tapes (1983) Omnivore Records
It’s Only Country & Western, But I Love It!
Where on earth do those crazy cats at Omnivore Records find these lost musical jewels? It must be years since I last heard Lone Justice, never mind played one of their LP’s…….probably when Son #1 was still had home as he had quite a crush on Maria McKee, if I remember rightly. I know I’m getting old and the memory isn’t always what it should be; but I don’t recall Lone Justice ever sounding as down home Honky-Tonkin’ Country as opening track Working Late! Maria sings her lungs out in a way I’ve not heard since those olden golden days when Dolly and Tammy where on our pub juke box; and it’s fair to say, for a demo this song sounds pretty fully formed to me in every which way! Perhaps the sorrowful bar-room ballad Don’t Toss Us Away which follows is a bit more like what I was expecting; but even then the Trailways strummed guitar and Maria’s delightful warble give this an authentic and timeless quality that sounds like it could have been recorded anywhere between 1958 and 2018. It’s staggering to think that these six demos/songs were written and recorded in 1983 when Bowie, The Police, Eurythmics and Kajagoogoo where topping the charts, and the original quartet plus pedal-steel player David Mansfield where trying to relive a time when Hank, George and Buck Owens were essential listening on the wireless! I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to walk into a bar to find a young band led by a very pretty and feisty young lady giving it everything and more on their very own railroad ‘classic’ The Train; with its furious fiddle, a guitar with more Twang than Luther and 100 mph drum beat, plus a sizzling steel guitar. Take a leap to today, and I See It, with Ryan Hedgecock on lead and Maria providing harmonies is that purist sound which 99% of today’s Alt. Country bands would sell their Granny’s for! Then you have How Lonesome Life Has Been, which closes the EP……. YEE and indeed Haw! A demo you say? I dread to think what an LA producer with a mullet and droopy moustache would have done to this glorious 2 minutes if LJ had only had some money. We need to nip back a song to find the RMHQ Favourite Song, Drugstore Cowboy, written by Maria and a homage to her Daddy. Like a lot of Classic Country songs from the 60’s and even 70’s the groove revolves around the drum and bass; but when you hear this song your ears will tingle with joy because of the way Maria McKee releases her inner-Dolly without a care in the world. (Sing it as if no one is listening?). OK for this 2018 Record Store Day release the original demos have been remastered, but to all intents and purposes this is the formative band at their gutsiest and most innocent, just singing and playing songs that they must have felt would bring them vast riches and glory.
Small Town, Kitchen Sink Dramas Never Sounded So Good.
I actually remember the day that I ‘discovered’ The Pistol Annies. It was in early 2012 and someone had requested Hell On Heels for my then radio show, so I checked them out on YouTube and within a minute I was so excited I did a little jig! Ten minutes later I had bought a download of the album and I think I played every track over the next few months.
Subsequently I’ve reviewed solo albums by Angaleena and Ashley; but had to actually part with hard cash for Miranda’s so it didn’t get featured on RMHQ!
Of the two of us here, I think it’s fair to say that Mrs. Magpie plays their albums more than I do; and Ashley Monroe’s SPARROW CD was on her car stereo only last week……serendipity, huh?
These days a new Pistol Annies album is a big deal not just here at RMHQ but across the whole Country Music world it appears, so I guess my thoughts won’t really make a huge difference to their bank balance; but here goes……….
Some rather neat Country guitar picking opens Interstate Prelude before the trio burst forth with some luscious harmonies on a short and sweet tune with just a hint of Gospel to it.
With so much of Country Music these days either being saccharine or Heavy Metal with a pedal-steel, it’s nice to find the Pistol Annies are still slightly edgy small town Country Girls at heart, starting with the kitchen sink dramas of Stop Drop and Roll One and the heart breaking When I Was His Wife showing that there’s still fire in their belly’s after all these years; and the opening lines to Got My Name Changed Back will surely touch the hearts of many in their fan-base;
“It takes a judge to get married
It takes a judge to get divorced
Spent the couple years in court
I got my name changed back!”
It’s an absolute firecracker and will have the ladies high-fiving each other as they dance like crazy at a concert; but when they hear Cheyenne, they will hug each and cry real tears as they slowly waltz around the edges of the dancefloor .
Obviously all three songwriters are skilled beyond belief and somehow they manage to collude quite spectacularly on all of the co-writes; with each drawing on their past or possibly present to write and deliver songs like Leavers Lullaby and Best Years Of My Life making them ‘believable’ for the listener at home.
As I alluded to earlier Country Music has moved on leaps and bounds since the days when Dolly and Loretta topped the charts; but Pistol Annies somehow still hark back to the ‘good old days’ in 5 Acres of Turnips and Milkman; but still make them contemporary enough to have some woman somewhere thinking “That could be about me!!”
The title track, INTERSTATE GOSPEL when it finally comes in all its glory is a real toe-tapper, clap-along tune that could easily be from Dolly’s Glory Years, as it’s got a fabulous beat and some death defying finger picking guitar too, and is surely destined for the radio.
There are already two singles here, Got My Name Changed Back and Sugar Daddy and I like them both a lot; but I’m going a bit left of centre for my own Favourite Song This Too Shall Pass which is from the darker end of the Love Song book and not really indicative of the rest of the songs here; but can only come from the heart of someone who is in a long and stable relationship that has sailed way past the lovey-dovey, hand holding phase but still love each other deeply.
Hmmmmm…..why would I like that best?
Now I’m on my second day with INTERSTATE GOSPEL I think Angaleena, Miranda and Ashley have found a delicate balance between the overall sound and choice of songs here; without compromising any of their individual ‘styles’; baring in mind all three singer-songwriters have now sparked off into reasonably different solo directions.
I’m also pleased to say the album is far from ‘over produced’; keeping it the right side of slick which allows the songs and stories to live and breathe without being swamped in copious string sections…..which was a bit of a fear in advance.