Laura Benitez & The Heartache
WITH ALL IT’S THORNS
Articulate Backroads Southern Country Music That Will Break Your Heart.
I’ve said this more than once over the years, but even in this Digital Age, good or at least interesting Album artwork is still a key to the overall experience of buying new music; and here is another case of a cover that would make me pick it up if I was in a Record Store.
Then, if I was to ask the proprietor to play the first track (as we did in the olden days) track #1; the sublimely titled Something Better Than a Broken Heart would easily make me part with £10.
Sounding uncannily like a young Laura Cantrell fronting the coolest ever Texan Country bar band. The song is a doozy; bittersweet and beautiful in equal measures and boy oh boy; can that band swing.
This is followed by the spine tingling Easier Things to Do; which shows Laura Benitez ain’t no one trick pony. A perfect song for when you need to turn the lights down low and stare at the telephone; praying it will ring and that ‘certain someone’ will be on the other end.
Oddly enough only yesterday I read an interview with a singer who mentioned a reviewer complaining that his album had ‘too many different songs’ on it; and I agree with the singer; how is that a bad thing? Here Laura sings some gorgeously deep ballads (In Red and the sparse Ghostship about a fire in a artists collective that caused the death of 36 souls) and balances these with a a very danceable Twangfest on Whiskey Makes Me Love You and The Fool I Am Right Now, which is surely Patsy Cline inspired, and to round things off there’s even a lovely, but sad Bluegrass song Nora Went Down The Mountain to close the record.
Then of course there has to be an RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’ and with so many delights to choose from I’m going for the one with the softest centre; and it’s another heartbreaker….. Our Remember Whens; which truly showcases her warmly translucent voice and The Heartache in all their majestic glory.
Often when I write about songs on albums by new artists to me, (this is her third album since 2010), I occasionally imagine them sung by major stars. That certainly isn’t the case here as Laura Benitez has a really special singing voice; which is perfectly matched for her own heart-shredding songs of love, loss and hope which must all come from the experiences of a life well lived.
Released January 26th 2018
GETTING INTO TROUBLE
Our Favourite German Shows Nashville How Country Ought To Sound.
Until Markus Rill crossed my path 5 years ago the only German music I was aware of were the Krautrock proggers of my youth like Can and Faust; then Kraftwerk some years later; none of which tickled my musical taste-buds.
Markus Rill on the other hand is now in my Top 10 artists of all time; producing some great Americana/Alt. Country/Country hybrid albums that sit on the ‘go to’ shelf for when the newer discs I receive don’t inspire me.
This Double album (Double album? Yikes?) is sub-titled 20 Years of Gunslinging and combines a whole album of new songs with a few re-workings of his older songs with some delicious cover versions and a few co-writes that didn’t make it previously; and the clever part is; you can’t tell what is old and what is new.
The album of brand new songs kicks off with the rye and even tongue in cheek, kick-ass In Theory; a songwriters song about ‘why do I bother’ until he remembers the excitement of playing his own songs in front of an appreciative audience……plenty of my friends know exactly where he’s coming from.
First and foremost Rill is a clever songwriter, sometimes writing from his own experiences and at other times inhabiting characters; both male and female to tell a story; and very few in 2018 do it half as well as he does.
One great example on Disc #1 is On The Sly; a raggedly beautiful acoustic song about a young girl who gets pregnant just before going to College and weighing up her options while being unable to tell a single soul about her dilemma.
Who else do you know can write a contemporary song about Henry VIII? Well Markus Rill did with For The Love of Anne Boleyn which kind of sounds like a Folk-Rocking history lesson; but also Country with its story. Well worth a listen.
For straight up ‘Country’ look no further than Vassar Played the Fiddle; about hearing Phil Vassar for the first time and ‘needing’ to do the same.
On any other record the brittle Not Like I Don’t Try would easily have been my ‘Favourite Song’ but here it barely makes the Top 3 on Side #1!
#2 is Jenny; an a-typical Markus Rill song about a woman in his life, perhaps real perhaps not; but a wonderful tale of a ‘green eyed stripper’ in New Orleans. Country Music don’t get no rawer than this kiddo.
The #1 title goes to Trouble With The Law; a dark and almost Gothic slice of Americana that could almost be a modern day Cowboy song and is probably as good a song as our German friend has ever written and sung.
Disc #2 is full of the re-workings and starts with the punchy Young Again; which has echoes of the Blasters and perhaps even the Waco Brothers at times; but Rills trademark grizzled and lived in voice makes it his and his alone.
As I said earlier; and possibly because they have been re-recorded nothing on this disc sounds dated by a day; even the covers Can’t Help Falling in Love and Gillian Welch’s One More Dollar; recorded as a fragile duet with RMHQ favourite Rachel Harrington are both delivered as if they had been written on the morning of the recording.
One of the biggest surprises here is the rip-roaring Rocker Killer on the Radio, an ode to hearing Jerry Lee Lewis while driving; but we all have similar feelings when hearing other singers at different times in our younger life.
As with Disc#1 there are three songs that all could make ‘favourite track’ status; with the beautiful Drifting In and Out of Sleep touching a very raw nerve with me these days; and the Blued-Soul of Girl On The A-Train being a gorgeous love song with a swinging brass section; and quite unlike anything I’ve heard from Rill before. Imagine Bruce Springsteen covering Southside Johnny, if you will.
My favourite track this time is a song that in my opinion only Markus Rill could write and deliver without sounding twee; and that’s the final song Angel on the Stairs. Straight from the heart and brittle at it’s core but swathed in strings; and very easy on the ear.
But there’s an outright winner; and a song that plenty of people on Music Row would give their left arm to write. Eye For an Eye is a contemporary Country song about having a bit of luck in your life that allows you to grow up and leave town and live a good life; but for a quirk of fate you could be your childhood best friend who turns up on National TV News as a murderer.
Not Quite Simple Twist of Fate; but a simple story that is so complicated most of us can thank our lucky stars we are the singer of the song and not the subject.
I’ve said many times over the years that there’s no such thing as a ‘Great Double Album’ and thankfully for me, the way Markus Rill has set this fantastic set of songs out I can still pretend I’m right; but here I can’t think of a single song that shouldn’t have made the cut.
Markus Rill? Europe’s best kept musical secret.
Released 26 January 2018
The Cool Edge of Nu-Country.
This is another album I nearly missed out on if it hadn’t been for my I-Phone ‘random’ button which can be scarily accurate at times judging my ‘mood’.
Bizarrely it was about 5.30 am and I was running late for work because of snow and a frozen windscreen when the punchy Singing At The Stars eased itself out of the car speakers and suddenly the world seemed a much better place and I naturally took my foot off the accelerator.
Which took me back to the beginning for the rest of the journey; the intro to track #1 Born To Love You is interesting; but Classic Modern Country at it’s finest with singer Brandon Lancaster’s croaky voice making him sound like he’s on the verge of tears; which is why we all love a Country Love Song isn’t it?
# A couple of days later I was listening to this song on headphones as Mrs. Magpie sat across the room and I too came close to tears deciphering to the intimate lyrics as I thanked God for helping her pull through from her recent operation.)
This is followed by the rousing Long Live Tonight; a razor-sharp Pop-Country song that will lift the roof off most venues when played live, as the (young) fans bounce up and down fist-bumping the air as they scream out the chorus.
To some degree Lanco and their songs aren’t targeted at Old Folk like me; but the younger generation and boy do they know what their chosen demographic want. In the good ole fashioned Country tradition everything here has a “will she/won’t she” “I love you/You don’t love me” and of course “It’s over” thread to them and in the case of So Long (I Do) and Troublemaker they are just perfect for Drive Time radio everywhere in the world.
If you want ‘deep and meaningful’ songs there’s always Adele but if you want to drink beer and put your arm around someone’s shoulder as you belt out a roaring chorus very little else in 2018 will match We Do, Middle of the Night and the fantastic title track Hallelujah Nights; which wouldn’t surprise me if it got stolen by someone like Keith Urban or Kenny Chesney.
Then, there is my ‘favourite song’……quite an easy choice, but it pains me to choose a song that has already been a massive US Hit, although I’d not heard it before I listened to this album.
Greatest Love Song is one of those timeless Country Love songs that crosses all cultural divides; whip smart lyrics about a love struck bad boy/good girl coupled to some sweet guitar picking, cool banjo and a military tight rhythm section that defies the band’s ages.
How do I best sum up LANCO and Hallelujah Nights? Well, I had to purloin the disc from Mrs. Magpie’s car this morning where it’s replaced Whitney Rose’ Rule 62 in the player and the sleeve sits alongside the latest albums by Little Big Town, Brothers Osborne and classics by Tim and Faith; and that’s not too shabby a place to live; is it?
Released January 19th 2018
A Guitar Masterclass From a Legendary CGP and Friends.
Here’s a thing; several of my friends are huge fans of Tommy Emmanuel and one is an actual friend of his; with Tommy staying at his home when he’s in the Region, but I’ve never heard his work until now.
Shame on me.
For a man with a huge cannon of work already under his belt this is a fascinating project for the Australian who is a Chet Atkins inspired CGP (Certified Guitar Player) as he plays alongside 16 world class singer-songwriters on an eclectic series of songs.
Emmanuel’s trademark picking opens track #1 Deep River Blues and when Jason Isbell’s distinctive voice glides into the mix the world suddenly becomes lovely again. When Tommy also adds his own cracked voice to the song, my mistake at never hearing him before becomes all too evident.
What a great way to start any album; and it’s fair to say……things actually get better and better.
Song and Dance Man with Ricky Skaggs adding mandolin and vocals follows and I was left bewildered as I tried to find the words to describe it……Country? Tick. Folk? Tick. Bluegrass? Tick. A joyful combination on a beautiful tune…..find your own pigeon hole.
There are household names littered throughout this album, with Emmanuel not just sharing the stage with Mark Knopfler on You Don’t Want To Get You One Of Those and Rodney Crowell on Looking Forward To The Past but outshining them too. There are many lesser names too; but ones very familiar to RMHQ readers like Amanda Shires and Suzy Bogguss who both sparkle and shine on their contributions in ways I’ve not heard from either in years.
The real joy though is the series of surprises from artists I’m not aware of, let’s start with some instrumentals C-Jam Blues with JD Simo & Charlie Cushman and Keeping it Reel with Clive Carroll, Purple Haze (yes…that one) with Dobro Maestro Jerry Douglas and the sublime Djangology with Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo; all three showcase world class playing and should be a Masterclass for any aspiring guitar players out there.
But the surprises don’t just stop there; I didn’t think the world needed another version of Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay but the duet with JD Simo breathes fresh life into this beautiful classic and the cutesy opening to Rachel’s Lullaby brought tears to my eyes and Emmanuel’s picking alongside Jake Shimbukuro on Ukulele is almost Classical in essence but very easy on the ear.
But the biggest surprise here is also my ‘favourite track’ and we have to go back to the Rodney Crowell song Looking Forward to The Past; which finds a new spark in Crowell’s voice as Emmanuel and the band evoke memories of the Emmylou’s Hot Band on a firecracker of a song.
There’s not a lot else to say here as there’s not a bad track here with a few being truly amazing and I must now backtrack and delve into Tommy Emmanuel’s immense back catalogue immediately.
Released January 19th 2018
WHINS & WEATHER
Birdie Num Num/CD Baby
Emotional Country Songs For the Darkest Recesses of The Heart.
As regular readers know we receive albums from all corners of the globe here at RMHQ ranging from the likes of Robert Plant, Shania Twain, UB40 and Ringo Starr (clang– name drops galore!) through to the life blood of the site; artistes like husband and wife Randy and Beki Kerkman who hail from the US of A but currently reside in the Irish Countryside; plying their trade as ‘Beki Hemingway’ and don’t have the backing of a corporate PR Company or record label.
The charmingly kick-ass Two More Hills almost took my breath away that first night driving home through the cold rain at midnight*. Beki’s voice sounds like cut-glass as a maudlin Reed organ, mandolin and pedal steel weep behind her on a heart shredding love song.
Next up, My World Is Out There finds an almost breathless Beki pleading with her ex-lover in a way I’ve not heard for a long time; and memories of the early Faith Hill and Jo Dee Messina records sprang to mind, before they got lost in huge productions and orchestras that smother the emotions.
OK my mind wasn’t in the best space when I first heard this album; but as the weeks have gone by I’ve grown to love the stories and lyricism in Anyone But You, You Sing This Song and especially
Because; especially the way Beki somehow manages to sound both brittle and strong in equal measures……as only a woman can.
This isn’t YEE-HAW Country music by a long chalk; but is most definitely Country Music that treads a fine path between Alt. Nu and Classic and will find numerous fans in all three camps
While most of the songs here are in the traditional boy/girl break-up/make-up and even unrequited love song tradition; and very good they are too…..Beki and Randy through caution to the wind with the haunting Tourist (Auschwitz/Birkenau 2016). I doubt I’ve ever heard a song on this subject in all my long years; and for a Country Singer to tackle such a sensitive subject and come out the other side with an amazingly tender song is quite staggering and the couple are to be applauded for their combined bravery.
Then we come to my ‘favourite song’ on the album, Not Excused. Beki singing from the heart as Linda Good gently plays the piano in the background while Kenny Hutson occasionally compliments the pair with some scintillating Dobro playing. Is it Country Music? Possibly; but more in the vein of Linda Ronstadt or Bonnie Raitt at their saddest as Beki uses her voice like a third instrument hitting notes with consummate ease on a song that will break the hardest of hearts.
That’s about it; I believe I’ve stumbled on another ‘star in the making’ or at least a Singer and Songwriter that will never fail to deliver albums of the highest quality as and when finances dictate.
*Sadly this album arrived the week Mrs. Magpie was rushed into hospital and while it proved a wonderful soundtrack to my going to and from the hospital it has remained sitting on the front of my desk for weeks until now.
Released October 4th 2017
Rocking Magpie Favourite TOP 20 of 2017
It’s been another amazing and occasionally tearful year here at RMHQ during 2017; I had my own health issues at the beginning of the year and in late October Mrs Magpie was rushed to hospital for an emergency operation (you don’t need to know the details……but it was a very scary time for me) but during the year there was always MUSIC and some of the music I’ve listened to in 2017 has been staggeringly good (some quite poor and disappointing too!) but some of the discoveries I’ve shared will change your lives.
Strangely enough when checking the data we had 93 more visitors than 2016 but 117 less views! All of which still blows my mind after two short years of going solo due to musical and financial differences.
After reviewing 312 albums, singles and box-sets choosing Ten and only Ten favourite albums was nigh on impossible; so this year I’ve stretched the list to twenty…..but it could have been fifty.
My criteria for selecting this 20 was basically sitting down with a piece of paper, a pencil and three strong cups of coffee remembering albums that ‘touched’ me in some way. Some are from perennial favourites who continue to make new and interesting music, but a lot on this list are brand new artistes to me and took my breath away in some way.
20) Remedy Club – Lovers. Legends & Lost Causes
19) Heather Lynne Horton – Don’t Mess With Mrs Murphy
18) Tift Merritt – Stitch of the World
17) Ray Wylie Hubbard – Tell The Devil
16) Holy Moly & The Crackers – Salem
15) Slaid Cleaves – Ghosts on the Car Radio
14) Thornetta Davis – Honest Woman (released USA 2016 but UK in 2017!)
13) Whitney Rose – Rule 62 (Mts Magpie’s #1)
12) Martin Stephenson & the Daintees – Bayswater Rd
11) Otis Taylor – Fanticizing About Being Black
10) Strange Blue Dreams – Strange Blue Dreams
09) Stephen Fearing – Every Soul’s a Sailor
08) Grainne Duffy – Where I Wanna Be
07) Hannah Johnson & The Brokenhearts – Shaken
06) Jeremy Pinnell – Ties of Blood and Affection
05) Rob Vincent – I’ll Make The Most Of My Sins
04) Angaleena Presley – Wrangled
03) Ian McNabb – Smile, Star, Strong
02) Sam Outlaw – Tenderheart
01) Chuck Prophet – Bobby Fuller Died For Our Sins
Ho Ho Ho; ’tis the season to be Merry and all that stuff; but it’s also the Season to produce Annual Top 10’s on websites like RMHQ, so being the awkward so & so’s we are we are producing two Top 10’s; with one being my own personal Top 10 Albums of 2017 and because we have reviewed 312 Albums, singles, books and concerts this year…….the Annual RMHQ Readers Top 10 as judged by actual hits/reads will be a Top 20!!
So……tada (drum roll)…in reverse order…..here is the Rocking Magpie Readers Top 20 Albums of 2017 as read by you lovely people.
20) Grainne Duffy – WHERE I BELONG.
19) Stephen Fearing – EVERY SOUL’S A SAILOR
18) Mark Eitzel – HEY MR. FERRYMAN
17) Trevor Sewell – CALLING NASHVILLE
16) Orphan Brigade – HEART OF THE CAVE
15) The Flaming Groovies – FANTASTIC PLANET
14) The Haley Sisters – ALWAYS BY MY SIDE
13) Project Mama Earth – MAMA EARTH
12) The Raspberries – POP ART (LIVE)
11) Sam Baker – LAND OF DOUBT
10) Rob Vincent – I’LL MAKE THE MOST OF MY SINS
09) Rodney Crowell – CLOSE TIES
08) Will Hoge – ANCHORS
07) Colin James – BLUE HIGHWAYS
06) Danny & The Champions of the World – BRILLIANT LIGHT
05) Chuck Prophet – BOBBY FULLER DIED FOR OUR SINS
04) Prosecco Socialist – THIS DOG’S FOR LIFE
03) Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – SELF TITLED
02) Martin Stephenson & The Daintees – BAYSWATER ROAD
01) Ian McNabb – STAR SMILE STRONG
Honourable mentions also go to…….
*Bruce Foxton – SMASH THE CLOCK. (2016 winner but still pulled enough votes to come in at #12!!)
*Blackberry Smoke – Rock & Roll Again (Video) just kept getting watched 2 years after being posted.
* Heather Lynne Horton – DON’T MESS WITH MRS. MURPHY (4 x great days)
* Pickxen – PICKS & VITTLES (Unknown outside their own backyard but the hits kept coming all year)
* Mick Wynne – WORLD OF MICK (Another unknown ‘local musician’ who had an amazing month on the RMHQ Charts)
* Bap Kennedy – RECKLESS HEART (The legend lives on)
As always the Top 20 (plus 6) highlight how eclectic The Rocking Magpie is. I/We just love music regardless of genre……which is why we listen to as much as possible hopefully bringing you your new most favourite album of all time, or at least piquing your interest.
PROSECCO SOCIALIST (David Rotheray, Eleanor McEvoy & Mike Greaves)
‘THIS DOG’S JUST FOR CHRISTMAS (NOT FOR LIFE)’
Gypsy Chicken Box Records
‘This Dog’s Just For Christmas (Not For Life)’ is an attempt to truthfully answer the old John Lennon rhetorical question ‘and so this is Christmas, and what have we done?’
The track reflects what David describes as ‘real Christmas’. It’s an existential Christmas song about living in the moment, where ‘the moment’ is an endless stream of pubs and short-term assignations. Not that pubs or short-term assignations are a bad thing, (of course) they just don’t feature heavily enough in the Christmas repertoire for David Rotheray’s taste.
It’s also the first single from Prosecco Socialist, the new project from ex-Beautiful South’s David Rotheray. Out today, December 8th, it precedes the upcoming album ‘Songs From Behind Bars’, due for release early 2018 on Gypsy Chicken Box Records.
Retiring from music four years ago, David didn’t see himself ever picking up a guitar again. However, idleness was not a comfortable state and, in 2016, he opened a pub in Hull (The People’s Republic). The stories and tales shared by the locals proved too rich a mine for such a narrative, observational songwriter to ignore, and so ‘Songs Behind Bars’ was born.
David has brought together two of his favourite musicians for this project. Irish singer and songwriter Eleanor McEvoy, a long-term friend and collaborator of David’s, shares vocal duties with a Hull living legend, Mike Greaves. Mike is described by David as “a wonderful singer and writer in the country idiom, loved across Hull for decades but mostly unknown anywhere else. I hope this project might serve, in a small way, to help his voice – both literal and metaphorical – to be more widely heard.”
Released December 8th 2017
Ho Ho Ho….it’s the Season to be Merry and all that nonsense. We’ve always loved a good Christmas Song at RMHQ and Blue Christmas is one of our very favourites; so when the delightful Brenda Burch told us she had recorded a version with her Dad on chromatic harmonica…..we thought…”What’s not to like?”
And we was right….
Duo Range Golden Tone.
Charming Contemporary Country Music That Nods Back To The Golden Years.
Well…..this is a fascinating … as I first encountered Sophia and her sister Hannah when they were members of the Toy Hearts alongside Dad Stewart; and loved seeing them play live many times, plus their song Tequila and High Heels was a favourite of my listeners on the Jumping Hot Club Radio Show many years ago.
Sophia eventually re-located to the Colonies and the home of the music she loves, Austin. She skillfully describes the initial frustration she encountered entering the US of A very eloquently on the swinging opening track Visa Blues; and I’m sure will be sung with a rye smile when featured in concert. And it has to be said Sophia’s guitar playing is as extraordinary as ever on the solos; often hinting at Chet Atkins several times.
What pleases me most here is the way Sophia slips and slides between several Country Music styles with ease; although the title track One Year, and her version of the intriguingly titled Bob Wills instrumental Big Beaver truly showcase her first love, Western Swing.
While she wrote and arranged most of the Toy Hearts songs, Sophia’s writing has really matured since she moved to Austin; with Don’t Call and the acutely observed bittersweet Kitchen Floor and Rue The Day showing a new contemporary style of storytelling which I like a lot.
Now;the accolade of ‘RMHQ Favourite Song’ goes to Starting Fires; because it’s not just an exceptional Country ‘Break Up’ song but also a superb slice of Classic Country melancholic melodrama played out to a haunting backdrop and a wailing fiddle from Beth Chrisman and some divine Honky-Tonk piano from the delightfully monikered Earle Poole Ball all combine to create a song that would have done Patsy or Loretta proud in the heyday of Country Music on National Radio.
The album comes to a sweet and swinging close with a jaunty rendition of I’m an Old Cowhand and Beaumont Rag which showcases not just Sophia Johnson’s dexterity on the geetar, but the amazing skills of the musicians she has surrounded herself with.
First released in 2016 this album has arrived too late to be featured in any of my Top 10’s; but it would have been a worthy contender as it’s been a bundle of pleasant surprises from start to finish.
As things have shown in my personal life recently; life’s too short and it’s all about the music at the end of the day; and this album is really well worth searching out.
Released 15th Sept 2016