Amilia K Spicer
WOW & FLUTTER
Free Range Records
Windswept, Brooding and Heartbreaking Lo-Fi Americana.
This album very nearly got missed as it was already a couple of months old when I received it; but my trusty I-Phone picked a lovely song out by random just after midnight on a rainy Saturday night/Sunday morning and I was immediately smitten.
That song is the breathy and emotional This Town, about someone who wants to leave ‘This Town’ but knows they won’t so needs to find a reason to stay.
WOW & FLUTTER actually opens with the type of easy on the ear Country song that catches you out; as you peel the layers away and it becomes a real tearjerker. On Fill Me Up Amilia sounds like she could be Linda Ronstadt or Emmylou in another life; and for an opening track it’s a keeper.
This is definitely Country Music…..I think, but with the emphasis on the Lo-Fi spectrum of Alt. Country…..if that makes sense.
Shotgun is dark and cinematic with a pedal-steel sounding like a wistful train as it accompanies the whispering singer; and later on Down To The Bone a gentle piano tinkles away as Amilia’s voice sounds ghostly and ethereal on a brittle love song.
It’s a similar feeling with the fragile Windchill; which makes Margo Timmins sound like Janis Joplin.
When a song starts with “my love is a train wreck/a train wreck” you just know it’s a Country song…..right? Well this one certainly is; but so slow and intimate you will find yourself leaning into the speakers to catch all of the words.
A big part of me wants to call that first song This Town my ‘favourite’ but truth be told; now I’ve played the album 6 or 7 times in full that accolade must go to What I’m Saying. A dark, reflective pot-boiler that brings everything that is brilliant about WOW & FLUTTER together in 5 emotional minutes.
As I said earlier, I first heard Amilia K Spicer just after midnight as the rain poured down on the windscreen; and that is the very best accompaniment I can imagine for the songs on this album for broken-hearted lovers everywhere.
Released April 28th 2017
READY THE HORSES
Hard-working Troubadour Shows His Class On A Big Label Expedition.
I first saw and met Jarrod Dickenson in 2012 when he supported Bap Kennedy in a North London Pub. Without getting over-excited about ‘discovering the next big thing’ there really was something different and even special about Jarrod’s songs and their delivery that meant I actually introduced myself to him. He didn’t have any with him that evening; but when he returned home he sent me a copy of his debut album THE LONESOME TRAVELLOR which I favourably reviewed in Maverick magazine later that year.
A couple of years later he got back in touch to ask if I’d like a copy of his next EP, Songs From Willow Street; which can be found in the RMHQ Back Pages; and I still have the lovely handwritten note that accompanied it.
Jump forward to Christmas 2016 and Jarrod again got in touch to say he had a new Album coming out in the Spring and would send a copy ASAP.
Nothing arrived. Not the biggest surprise in the world as he is constantly touring or supporting all kinds of acts somewhere in the world; but I was still a touch disappointed.
Then a month or so ago a decent sized PR Company got in touch hailing Decca Records new signing…..Jarrod Dickenson who would be releasing an exciting new album in September!
So; I’m thrilled to say that after many years of hard graft; Jarrod Dickenson has hit the Big Time…..but has the music changed?
Hell Yes! It’s got bigger, brighter and better.
Opening track Faint of Heart finds the warmly toned Dickenson fronting a classy Country ensemble on a tearjerker of the finest proportions, and any worries that I had dissolved after less than a minute.
First and foremost a storyteller, Dickenson is a mighty fine songwriter too; honing in on the tiny things in our lives but painting extraordinarily cinematic pictures with his words too.
In The Meantime and Take It From Me are quintessential sad Jarrod Dickenson songs; but with the addition of ‘this band’ are taken into a whole new stratosphere; taking the listener on a beautiful journey along the way.
I’m a ‘fan’ and have seen the singer perform several times; but nothing prepared me for the beauteous intimacy of Your Heart, with it’s majestic guitar picking that accompanies his rich singing voice; but while originally from Willow Street; it’s now delightfully gussied up as a duet with his wife Claire; which gives it a lovely haunting quality too.
California treads a similar path; with the addition of some ghostly pedal-steel on the saddest of sad love songs……certainly one for late at night, as you can with the darkly bittersweet, fightin’, fussin’ and makin’ up Take It From Me too.
As you will know from the hundreds of reviews on RM I do like a good story; and that’s probably Dickenson’s finest strength; storytelling……which doesn’t get better than on the darkly Gothic tale Gold Rush; which has a David Olney quality and then some.
For the uninitiated and fans like me alike; there are pleasant surprises around every corner especially my favourite song here……the gentle Country song A Cowboy. One of the simpler arrangements on the album; but sometimes simplicity is the best way to get a story across and this story is absolutely bloody gorgeous.
For once the money that a record label has thrown at an artist appears to have been well; spent as band (guitar, gentle bass, tsch-tsch drums, pedal-steel and a swirling organ) actually flesh out Jarrod’s songs and stories in the most delightful manner.
Released September 29th 2017
We first ‘discovered’ the talents of Jarrod Dickenson back in 2012 when he supported Bap Kennedy at an intimate gig in THE BOOGALOO BAR,in Highgate, London.
We’ve sort of kept in touch over the years and loved his EP Songs of Willow St. and have waited impatiently for the release of a full album ever since.
That album READY THE HORSES was planned for release in March this year; but he was then ‘picked up’ by Decca Records who are now going to give it a ‘big push’ when it is finally released on 29th September.
Until then here is the fabulous single California.
Ray Wylie Hubbard
TELL THE DEVIL I’M GETTING THERE AS FAST AS I CAN.
The Last Real Outlaw Shows His Undoubted Class.
It’s fair to say Ray Wylie Hubbard probably hasn’t had the commercial success that is songs have deserved across a 40 year career; but ask any singer-songwriter from the East Nashville Collective (or similar in other countries) and his name will usually be in the Top 3 of influencers.
At the tender age of 71 Ray is releasing his 17th album in a typical low-key manner with next to no advertising budget; but it shows the esteem the guy is held in that early reviews have been a ‘featured’ in the likes of Rolling Stone and all the big US newspapers.
If you don’t already know Ray’s ‘oeuvre’ don’t expect any Coldplay style productions, or twee Ed Sheeran ‘what a sad life I have’ songs here; Ray Wylie Hubbard has lived the life his Mother feared and come out the other side with a twinkle in his eye and voice that will send shivers down your spine.
Opening song God Looked Around finds Ray sounding like Johnny Cash’s rougher and gruffer brother, as the band pick out a spartan almost Native American beat in the background, and is the essence of what we know as Americana all wrapped up in 5 beautiful minutes.
Track #2 Dead Thumb King opens with the ingenious line, ‘I got some dope from Lightning Hopkins Grave/and some bones from a low black crow.’ Then the deadpan Hubbard goes on to narrate what can best be described as ‘The Great Americana Poem’ to a subtle yet stinging Country-Blues backing. The first time I heard it I actually had tears in my eyes.
Ray rasps and wheezes his way through a rascals long rakish life, from the time when he was ‘wild young and handsome/smoking cigarettes at thirteen’ through falling in love with Olivia and ‘settling down’ by opening The House of The White Rose Bouquet until her passing and everything goes to Hell again; and if you listen carefully there’s a majestic twist in the tail too.
While most noted these days for playing acoustically; but on The Rebellious Sons, Lucifer and the Fallen Angels (featuring some deeply gorgeous slide from son Lucas) and Old Wolf he shows he can still write and sing a classy Country Rocker better than plenty of guys half his age.
In a lesser writer’s hands Open G would be a ‘throwaway track’ but the way Ray explains (in song) how to play that damn guitar the way he does is absolutely fascinating; even though I’m not sure how often I will actually play it again; but I look forward to seeing and hearing it when in concert.
The title track Tell The Devil I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can, is a bit of a mouthful but is truly excellent and will appeal to musicians the world over in the way he dolefully tells the tale of an itinerant musician, ‘whose last band played the Clash, Kinks and Replacements/for kicks’ and he ‘met her in Ella/when he was opening for Son Volt’ add that to changing the strings on an ‘old Sunburst Gibson.’ It does it no harm that it’s a duet with Lucinda Williams and Eric Church is in there somewhere too!
The album closes as it starts with the rasping Ray, very much sounding his age and strumming an old acoustic guitar, looking back at his life; and even his possible future ‘place in Hell’ on In Times of Cold; a gorgeous duet with Lucinda Williams again. I don’t really know why but there is a majestic feel to this particular song, especially when he plays that harmonica like an Angel, which is why I’m picking at as my ‘Favourite track’ on a particularly fine album.
Released August 18th 2017
TIES OF BLOOD AND AFFECTION
The Sound of Bakersfield on Steroids.
I don’t know what constitutes ‘Country Music’ any more; but as Kris Kristofferson once said “If it sounds Country, then it IS Country!” So, using that adage Jeremy Pinnell may look like a Victorian Child Catcher on the album cover; but the songs he writes and music he makes is pure 21st Century Country Music…..but with a very dark streak at it’s heart.
Opening song finds Jeremy’s voice creaking at the seams on the Ballad of 1892; a tale of dark nocturnal goings on between a couple on the edge of society sung to a sweet tune; and even the first time I heard it I realised I was listening to an exceptional talent.
Track #2 Take The Wheel is the type of naturally swinging Country and Western I associate with the likes of Waylon, Willie and Cash…..but this lad looks and sounds like the ‘real deal’ as he sings from the heart ‘I forgot how much I love music/cos for so long I thought I might lose it’ in a song that touches on the narrator ‘driving in a haze’ and ‘spending time in an institution’ at one stage as he pleads with the woman to ‘please just take the wheel’ – a metaphor for life itself, I think.
Don’t for one minute think that this is a ‘sad album’…..no, no, no. The subjects may be stark and tell of a troubled life; but Pinnell and band certainly like a melody and a tune in the old fashioned sense.
I Don’t Believe is a beautifully crafted song that nods in the direction of several songs and bands I love; but the rip-snorting pace means you quickly forget about comparisons and just let the lyrics tie you up in knots.
Oh Lordy Lord…..how good is I’m Alright With This? The singer chugs along nicely, talking about why he has to stop drinking ‘I got tired of going to jail/every time I drink a beer’ and ‘doing a few lines’ because he now has ‘a good woman with the sweetest kiss’. Tell me that’s not the basis for a great Country song…..I dare you!
His ‘Battle with his Devils’ turn up again on Ain’t Nothing Wrong/Ain’t Nothing Right and why his ‘woman in Kentucky’ could be his saviour…..but she’s not with him every day and there are ‘temptations’ around every corner.
Pinnell certainly has a way with words and telling a story; current comparisons would obviously be Sam Outlaw or Sturgill Simpson; but Jeremy Pinnell’s songs even more steeped in the Classic Bakersfield Sound than anyone on the current circuit; with songs like Best I Could Do and The Way We See Heaven sounding as contemporary as anything I hear on a daily basis; but could just as easily have been the type of song you would hear in a Honky-Tonk bar anytime between 197o and 1990.
I’d not heard of Jeremy Pinnell before receiving this, his second album but the artwork intrigued me and the 9 songs each took my breath away in different ways; as I certainly didn’t expect ‘that face’ to sing Songs this articulate and melodious. Which brings us to our ‘Favourite Track’ Different Kind of Love. Wow…..I’m very nearly lost for words a week after playing it regularly. It’s the type of Classic Country Love Song that you presume isn’t written any more; but it is…and it’s here.
This is an album of music to ‘listen to’ but you can dance to it too, the slow smoochy, hanging on for dear life type of dancing.
Released September 21st 2017
THE HAMMER & THE HEART
Jersey Girl Music
Lots of Songs and Stories to Love, Laugh and Dance To.
First of all let me tell you that I firmly believe that there’s no such thing as a ‘great’ double album; as judicial editing can reduce them all to a great single album…..FACT.
But I will forgive Susan Cattaneo for releasing such a monolith; as in this instance she has coupled together a distinct ‘Electric’ album alongside an ‘acoustic’ one; in the style of LP sides of old; and that’s how I’m treating this release….as a single LP made up of two sides.
Side #1 (The Hammer)…..
Me and my I-Phone both absolutely adore the opening track Work Hard, Love Harder…..a rip-roaring Country Rocker finds Susan with the Bottle Rockets in tow blowing the cobwebs off Country Rock with fire, brimstone and a damn fine melody.
As if giving us time to draw breath things slow down and get a tad darker immediately afterwards with the reflective The River Always Wins.
As the first notes of #3 In The Grooves fought their way out of the car speakers I thought “I know that guitar picker!” And it really is the legendary Bill Kirchen adding his trademark ‘Twang’ to a gloriously sloppy, rocking and rolling three and a half minutes of pure musical joy.
This is Susan’s fifth album and wowza can she write a song to make you think, tap your toes and keep your attention too. The only comparison I can make is with Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 1990’s releases; but with added forcefulness on Dry and Back Door Slam (feat. Davy Knowles) which closes Side/Album #1.
Favourite track here should be Work Hard, Love Harder but the sensitive and bittersweet Does My Ring Burn Your Finger, with its growling guitars and menacing drum n bass combo combine with Susan’s distinctive voice to create a mighty powerful song that will stay with me long into my dotage.
Side #2 (The Heart)
Work Hard, Love Harder opens this side/album too but couldn’t sound any more different. This version alongside the Boxcar Lilies is a delightful Hill-country Folk song with the words possibly even taking on a completely different meaning.
This is followed by the brittle and beautiful love song, Ordinary Magic during which Cattaneo’s velvety voice makes my heart tingle every time I hear it.
Smoke is probably the most traditional ‘Country Love Song’ here, with the ingenious chorus ‘loving you is like catching Smoke.’ I couldn’t possibly comment; as Mrs. Magpie occasionally reads these things; but ‘I know where you are coming from!’
The nine tracks on The Heart really do sound the polar opposite of those on The Hammer; with her treatment of the Mose Allison classic (Everyone’s Crying) Mercy becoming a midnight torch song and the bizarre selection of Bowie’s Space Oddity fitting into the collection like a glove.
Choosing a favourite song on this side/album has proved very difficult indeed; but I’m going for Field of Stone which deals with the trials and tribulations that have followed her throughout her life with some incredible attention to detail and a sad and eloquent chorus that will break your heart into little pieces.
As two distinct separate ‘sides’ The Hammer & The Heart works perfectly well; meaning you can delight in Susan Cattaneo’s writing and singing no matter what mood you are in; clever that.
Released August 25th 2017
PLACE YOUR BETS
Soulful, Feisty and Fired-Up Southern Indie-Country.
We loved Roni Perry’s 2016 EP Nothing Less Than This so got pretty damn hot under the collar when she told us she had recorded a whole LP of new songs…..but…..woah…..we weren’t expecting anything quite is ‘full on’ as this.
The album opens up with rockier song than anything on the EP and Neverland certainly gets the party started in Debbie Harry post-punk kinda way; and chock full of extra-spicy guitar too.
Five songs later Roni cranks up the Voltmeter again on her own penned Stormy Weather and her voice sounds just perfect as it battles Simon Beard’s electric guitar for prominence…..and wins.
While the young Devonian can certainly ‘Rock’ it’s the slower ballads that we like best here; with Dontcha Worry and the bittersweet Shooting Range both showing that not only can Roni Perry really, really sing a song….but write a great one too.
Harking back to the lo-fi of her EP Square Glass Bottle is a beautiful and deceptively simple song that will make your heart flutter the first time you hear it.
It’s actually quite difficult to pigeon-hole Perry’s music; as it’s predominantly ‘Indie’ with more than a shred of the Blues filtering through a few songs; but So So Wrong more than hints at a Country heritage too……something for everyone? I think so.
The title track Place Your Bets confirms that heritage with a Twangtastic foot-stomper that will have audiences bouncing along to it all over the country.
Although not an easy choice on an album full of interesting songs; I’m going with the brittle and acoustic Smokin’ and Drinking which closes the record as my ‘favourite track’ as it truly showcases not just a clever and articulate songwriter; but a young singer on the cusp of the next step in her career.
Released May 1st 2017
Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters
Thoughtful and Articulate Small Town Country Music.
While not really the most enticing Album cover you’ve ever seen; the photographer in me was actually drawn to the picture on the cover of Amanda Anne Platt’s fourth album; as it’s the type of ‘washed out’ photography I myself am experimenting with at the moment.
And, to some degree; and I doubt it’s by accident, that imagery actually gives you a feel of the lived-in Blue-Collar, small town Country music within the grooves of the disc that follows.
Amanda’s pearlescent voice slides gracefully from the speakers on the opening track Birthday Song; which isn’t the normal happy-clappy song the title would suggest; this is a woman looking backwards and forwards in equal measure and wondering what she has achieved and what the world holds for her in the future. We’ve all been there; and Amanda tells her story with style and elegance.
Long Ride follows and the mood doesn’t get much happier. The band sound wrapped as tight as a drum while Amanda pleads with her lover to stick on in there for ‘the long ride;’ and the pedal-steel and piano combine to add enough poignancy to bring a tear to a glass eye.
There are days when I’m staggered that a songwriter can still find a new angle on the age old story of a ‘tired relationship’ and boy does Amanda Anne have a way with words; Learning How To Love Him, finds her accompanying herself on acoustic guitar on a deeply moving song, that reminded me of Jeannie C Riley and Loretta, all those years ago.
Brand New Start is a similar sorry tale but played out to a Waltz beat and is as Country a Country Song as you will hear this year.
The first time I heard Guitar Case and The Good Guys (Dick Tracy) I thought they sounded a bit ‘old fashioned’ which is odd (and wrong!) as they fit in perfectly with the type of songs I love by ‘Ameripolitan’ artists like Sturgill Simpson and Sam Outlaw; so why can’t a lady fit into that sphere? Well, Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters can; and do stand side by side with those guys; but without the Trucker Cap.
Don’t fret, there are toe-tappers here too with Eden and the delightful Late Summer’s Child being a touch more up-tempo and ‘happier’ especially the latter (which is Mrs. Magpie’s favourite song here).
The band here are outstanding from start to finish and Amanda Anne has an spectacular vocal style, ‘pearlescent’ as I described it earlier; but it’s the songwriting that stands out here with two songs that I will choose as ‘RMHQ Favourites’……The Things We Called Home is 100% pure Honky Tonk and timeless; while Amanda and the band straddle the divide between Country and Alt like a tightrope walker on the rattlingly good ‘every-man song’ Diamond in the Rough.
In it’s own heartache drenched way, this has been a joy from start to finish……pure darn Country too; but real down-home Country that we now have to refer to as Ameripolitan; but it is what we know as COUNTRY MUSIC…..pure and simple.
Released UK August 4th 2017
Released US August 28th 2017
Simultaneously more jazzier than Lucinda Williams, and more dirt floor country than Jason Isbell, Lynne Hanson is a fine songwriter with a good ear for rhymes and she most definitely knows how to pen a heartwarming song. Her velvety voice is smooth and assured but at times it would be nice to hear her stretch her vocal cords a bit, especially on songs like “Dead Weight” and “Devil Said Do” which could use a bit more fire and hysteria. Canadian Hanson plays it nice a bit too much, which is a common complaint from me with many blues and Americana influenced musicians nowadays. This is something that bands like the Rolling Stones got right when crafting this sort of material decades ago. This is dirty, rough, messy music and sometimes needs to be treated as such. Hooting and hollering is fine, when you get it right, you just have to step out and take that chance.
He voice serves her better on the title cut, “Uneven Ground,” which is jazzier, with New Orleans influenced piano and drums, and it’s smartly followed by “Every Honest Misstep” which comes on strong, quite possibly the best “pop” song on the album.
The production comes off a bit too simple for my tastes, sounding more like demos or unfinished tracks than a completed album, but I do appreciate that they didn’t follow nearly every other artist working in this genre and shoot for the typical generic Nashville production with syrupy fiddles, cornpone twangy Teles, and stereotypical pedal steels. Instead we have some accomplished piano playing throughout which helps to cement several of the tracks together, and the acoustic guitars on these tunes are exceptional.
So, yeah, I’m a bit on the fence on this one. I like the songs, I like Hanson’s voice, I feel as if this is the album she wanted to release, but—since this isn’t her first album but rather her fifth—I would have hoped for something a little more fearless. I’ve seen several live videos where Hanson opens up
wonderfully, it would be nice to hear some of that on her next album.
Released 7th April 2017
Courtesy The legendary Roy Peak
Jess and the Bandits
KINGS OF SUMMER
The sun may be shining on Wimbledon but it’s still pretty rubbish up here in the North of England; but……the sun shines for everyone on the new Video from our friends Jess and the Bandits…..KING OF SUMMER.