A Learning Template For Aspiring Singer-Songwriters Everywhere.
As I occasionally mention, one of the many joys of doing these reviews is that I get to discover new acts that I wouldn’t normally get to hear; and then pass on that excitement to you. Sometimes it’s not even a fresh faced act still in their teens; or in the case of our friends at Omnivore Records it’s an act long forgotten and barely remembered; which was the case a couple of years ago when they re-issued a pair of Singer-Songwriter Steve Goodman’s albums …. which knocked me sideways. While the accompanying Press Release was quite concisive; I still Googled him; only to find that he had died of leukemia in 1984 at the tender age of 36 …… but what a legacy he has left behind. While I’m only a new found fan; even I know that there’s oh so much more to Steve Goodman than his The City of New Orleans which is got out of the way as the introduction to this compilation as an intimate demo; and we can then get on with wallowing in Goodman’s genius, starting with the raw love song Yellow Coat from 1981 and should be a staple of any and every young Folk Singer’s repertoire in 2021. As a ‘Best Of;’ there’s a strange mix of Live and studio recordings here, that I’d probably have preferred to have been seperated into two albums; but what do I know? While my brother Brian had albums by many of Goodman’s contempories that I listened to at that time; very few have aged as well as these songs here, with The Dutchman and Souvenirs standing out like the Goodman Classics that they are and still sound hauntingly timeless as I sit here in my office. If you’re as new to Steve Goodman as what I am; there’s so much to like here; and I’m sure when someone under 50 hears the dryly observant Banana Republic, Chicken Cordon Bleus or Would You Like To Learn to Dance and the bubbly ‘road song’ This Hotel Room they will be sparking off to check out the albums that they came from before the next song comes onto the player. If I’m brutally honest there are a couple of tracks included that may get skipped over after a couple of plays; but nonetheless Goodman’s playful rendition of As Time Goes By and Talk Backwards too plus, of course the two songs cut with and about the Chicago Cubs; A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request and Go Cubs Go …… but; I’m sure no Steve Goodman retrospective would be complete without them. But; and it’s not even a big ‘but’ everything else here is not just a ‘keeper’ but in many ways a learning template for aspiring singer-songwriters, and while the actual reference Video Tape is from a past world; the song itself is as if Steve could see into the future and know that our lives in the 21st Century are in the mode of the Truman Show! With a catalogue as strong as this it’s nigh on impossible to select a single song as a Favourite; come on….. how can you choose between the deeply personal My Old Man, which got me to thinking about my Old Man and his many traits that I hated but now miss every day; or the rip-roaring Men Who Love Women Who Love Men ……. which really does need to be a re-issued single and shows what a clever and interchangeable songwriter Goodman was; and then there’s Johnny Cash playfully introducing You Never Even Call Me By My Name, which he wrote with John Prine ….. my God why have I never heard this song before? I’m sure that the many recordings of Goodman’s songs have left his family reasonably well off; but why oh why is his name not mentioned in the same vein as his friends John Prine and Tom Paxton; but I guess there’s still time ….. starting here?
Classy and Unapologetic 21st Century Country Music
Thankfully I’ve not had much time recently for actually putting pen to paper; which has actually allowed me to listen a bit closer to a couple of new and too some intent; ‘challenging’ albums …. and this is one of them …. and a very Special Release it is, in many ways. That ‘extra time’ has possibly been essential here; as Tommy Atkins is Proudly Gay; and these songs not just reflect that; but are defiantly so in tone, texture and content; so much so I had to rewrite much of what will follow after reading the CD’s accompanying booklet. In my defence I couldn’t care less what any musician’s race, creed, religion or indeed sexuality is …… as long as the music is good; I’m there. In this instance after a couple of years of ‘will he/won’t he’ Geordie Lad,Tommy Atkins has pulled the best of his songs together and released them to reflect his very own life; and while listeners like myself will find several to be ambiguous in content; Tommy throws his Stetson down with the stunningly gorgeous Kiss Me Cowboy which opens the album like he’s been having #1 Hits all his life. While there’s obviously a clue in the title I obviously missed ‘that’ the first couple of times I played it; just wallowing in the luscious Countryfried production and Atkins’ wonderful voice and beautiful story; until eventually the chorus ‘clicked’ and I found myself going “Oh!” But; why can’t this be a boy/boy love story? It’s not as if it doesn’t happen! OK, just like It Took a Woman; my first instincts were that both songs should be edited to be boy/girl romances; just like so many Music Biz types had been telling Tommy for years ….. but, hey man …… it’s 20 bloody 21 …… the best music comes from not just your heart but your own experiences; and Tommy Atkins gives us both with aplomb and sheer class. As he says in the accompanying booklet, he started songwriting as a teenager in NE England, then moved to Nashville where he worked as a songwriter for a few years; and he’s now a happily married 30 year old flitting seamlessly between the two musical hotbeds; and these sharply observed songs and stories chart all of the adventures a boy (or girl) has in those crazy and fun filled in-between years. Speaking of ‘fun filled’ Atkins really gets to the heart of the matter with Cinderella’s Had a Drink and Time of The Month; both are Friday Night Yeehaw Friday Night tales; that will have many of us remembering what it was like trying to have a ‘good time’ during the three weeks leading up to payday, every month; and in the former …… hahahahaha ……. I’m not naming names, but it could easily be about someone very very close to me (in her younger days). There is just so much to like here; primarily as this is the unapologetic Country Music they say ain’t made anymore …… check out Met The Man (featuring John Drake Hollier); here Atkins wears his influences not just on his sleeve but in the way he delivers his song; not caring two hoots if you think it’s cool or not …… this is the music he believes in 100% and damn the consequences. Speaking of influences; it took me three plays to actually recognise the second track; Freedom; yup …. it’s the George Michael classico; but now turned into sadder than sad Country heartbreaker which will reduce even the hardest of hearts to absolute mush; and not for the first or last time here, features the divine fiddle playing of Michael Cleveland and pedal-steel from Smith Curry too. Kiss Me Cowboy is an obvious single and has been a Hit on several charts; but I’m going Left of Centre for my actual Favourite; possibly a case of ‘right place/right time’ for me; as Stuck Behind a Tractor is an astonishing metaphor for looking at your life and needing to slow down; whether you know it or not. In another universe I can actually imagine Ashley McBryde or even Keith Urban having a humongous Hit with it in exactly the same format; but in my perfect world it will be just as humungous a Hit for young Mr Atkins. The album comes to a rather beautiful close with Wild in The Wind, when the elder singer looks back on a first love with Atkins showing a way with words that the suits on Music Row will surely regret ‘getting away!’
#It appears Tommy Atkins was actually already a ‘follower’ of RMHQ on the Twitter long before a mutual friend; The Geordie Cowboy mentioned his name to me and I checked him out ….. I really wish that I was better at Social Media!
On this, his second release Australian Brad Cox has expressed a desire to take his music “to the next level locally and internationally.” With “My Mind’s Projection” he’s developed an accessible yet gritty sound which could help him do just that. Opener “Hold Me Back” is a dobro and banjo Chris Stapletonesque prison ballad stomper, that’s not afraid to throw in the odd naughty swear word, and it places Cox firmly in the soulful loud-guitar-driven side of the Country spectrum. “Drinking Season” a lively rocky tune with some impressive slide and lead breaks, treads well-worn lyrical territory and is aimed squarely at mainstream radio; but ultimately doesn’t really offer much new to Nu-Country’s normal tales of beer, summer, trucks and girls, girls, girls. Track three “Short Lived Love” is one of a few tracks on the album that are very reminiscent of other tunes – in this case, the feel and tone which starts things off is very much in the mode of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, before shifting into epic anthemic Nu-Country mode and back again.
Fellow countryman Adam Eckersley joins Brad on vocals on “Remedy”, with a largely spare arrangement that shows off both voices well in a swelling ballad that draws in instruments one at a time as the song builds into a Prince-flavoured grandiose love ballad. Title track “My Mind’s Projection” develops from a mid-paced handclap opening, into a Memphis horn soul stomper and shares musical territory with the likes of Nathaniel Rateliff – a few of the tracks on the album also use horns and do it rather well. As mentioned earlier, there are a few tracks that are quite reminiscent in part to other songs – “Wasted Time” has an acoustic guitar chord sequence running through it that is very Paul Kelly/Oasis (and several others) , it’s one of the less bombastic tunes on the album and is definitely one of the catchiest and a personal favourite for those reasons. I dare anyone to listen to “Thought I Knew Love” and not see its clear musical kinship to Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” – from the rimshot snare to the organ swells, they’re clearly kissing cousins. Lyrically, Cox isn’t in the Springsteen league though and generic tales of rambling, bars and loud guitars unfortunately eventually sound rather bland. “Give Me Tonight” is more inoffensive, but largely unremarkable stadium singalong AOR. “I Keep Driving” is a stock road and rambling life of a musician song – nicely performed and delivered as a chug-and-singalong stop-starter, but again it’s a path (pardon the parallel metaphor) that’s been well-travelled. The more intriguingly titled “Caught In a Noose by a Stranger” musically is a skulking, sinister swampy vocal and guitar tour-de-force, that although suffering from some cliched lyrical rhyming couplets, shows some glimpses of a darker poetic side that is most welcome. “I Still Want More” is a brave title to end the album on, and in its mixture of Southern Soul horns and vocal restraint from hitting the big chorus until it’s really needed – it ties things up in a way that does Brad Cox a lot of favours. In mining the quieter, Southern Country-Soul vein his musical voice rings out more truly. Finding the balance between popular appeal and maintaining a streak of rootsy uniqueness is a tricky one. On this album, there’s a lyrical naivete that doesn’t quite live up to the same level as the superb playing and vocals. Brad’s only a young man – on the basis of this release, with a few more years of heartbreak and developing his lyrical craft, he’s going to be one to watch out for.
21st Century Country Bravado, Sensitivity and So Much More.
When I first received this last week I knew I had a dilemma. I played it while doing some chores, and thoroughly enjoyed it so played it again in the car with Mrs Magpie tapping her hands on her thighs along to the melodies …. which is a good sign with Country Music. We are both fans of Toby Keith and Tim McGraw as well as Jason Isbell and Johnny Cash, which shouldn’t come as a surprise should it? Then I read the Press Release, only to find Lee Brice is already something of a Star in the modern Country scene with numbers in his streaming stats that are totally mind-boggling. So; my dilemma was would a review on RMHQ make a ha’peth of difference to his sales/streams, when I have a box of CD’s from Indie acts that do depend on sites like ours for getting their music across to the populace? Well; it was during the drive to work one afternoon with these Brice’s anthems blasting out of the speakers when the lyrics in a chorus caught my attention …… YIKES! Baring in mind this was the days after the US Election, I was actually caught off guard and …… actually quite shocked at what I heard ….. hence my second dilemma. But; perhaps arrogantly I think I need to put my thoughts ‘out there’ and see what the reaction is. One of the main reasons I kept getting drawn back is opening track Atta Boy. A doozy anthem of a Nu-Country song where our natator sees good things around him that normally go unnoticed; but need praising and all played out alongside some searing guitar and pneumatic bass n drums too. Next up is the delightful One of Those Girls; a single that has garnered many of those mind boggling stats; and you can easily hear why. A punchy Country beat and a singer pouring his heart out to the unrequited love of his life …….. we’ve all been there. So far so good; and much of what follows touches these lofty heights too; none more so than the laid back vibes on Do Not Disturb and the enigmatic heartfelt Lies too, which go to show what a delightful sensitive side Lee Brice has and uses to great effect on an album full of light and shade. What appears to have been tagged on at the end is the CMA nominated humungous Hit Single alongside Carley Pearce, Hope You’re Happy Now. Very good it is too and I understand why it’s been so popular on the radio (Mrs Magpie loves it btw); but ten minutes later; I can’t remember it …… sorry. To some degree a song with the title Good Ole Boys should have sent up some smoke signals; but it’s actually nowhere near as ‘frightening’ as I’d feared; being a lot more Dukes of Hazard than Proud Boys, that’s for sure! In a similar vein; Memory I Don’t Mess With, with it’s reference to ‘Springsteen on the speakers/girl I’m on fire‘ and Country Knows are perhaps the biggest and best surprises here as Brice paints delightful pictures, namechecking ‘the Haggard songs my Daddy played’ on a song that touches on the darker side of life that only Country Music can cure – clever and sing-along too. Before I come to My Favourite song, I have to discuss two, maybe three songs that have left me feeling uncomfortable. While an incredibly ‘clever’ and thoughtful song, Save The Roses which takes on the narrative of someone dying, or is it the narrator taking on the role of the young man in the coffin; telling everyone to live life to the fill, before it’s too late; but there’s a line in the chorus where I shuddered; “Save my truck Save my guns And when their old enough Give them to my sons …. “ I don’t come from such a culture where that’s second nature; but I’m sadly sure it’s going to play out well with many in the Red States. The other song is even more blatant, as the opening verse finding Lee Brice hollering; “If you don’t like our drinkin’ If you don’t like our trucks If you don’t like our rifles Buddy ….. we don’t give a fuck!“ The song then gets even more defiant and has left a sour taste in my mouth; but I do know it’s going to make Lee Brice a legend in bars and Honky-Tonks where I would be frightened to order a beer in a straight glass. Now that’s out of the way; on an album full of cracking and crackling good Country songs, two in particular stand out from the crowd; and they couldn’t be more different, making my choice of actual Favourite Song left to the toss of a coin. The first few times I played track #3, More Beer I smiled and inadvertently nodded my head along to this pumping party anthem. OK, I’m far too old to be part of the video; but hey …… I too was young once and can still ‘romantically’ visualise the teenage me sitting on the back of a semi-truck waving my beer in the air as both the speakers and the girls rock and indeed roll. The other; and probably the very best song here is Sons & Daughters; which is just a massive surprise as Brice sings about the juxtapositions that surround him and us in life, starting with; “Right now there’s a redneck boy On a tractor Sweating Seven days a week So you and m can drive five minutes in the AC To get the groceries ……….. So quick to judge them, aren’t we?” Hopefully this is the song that Lee Brice will be remembered for in decades to come; but I have my doubts and the less said about that; the better.
My Darling Clementine (with Steve Nieve) COUNTRY DARKNESS Fretstore Records
A Musical Marriage Made in Country Heaven.
In the week Elvis Costello himself releases his own latest album; one of/if not Britain’s finest Alt. Country act’s re-imagines a bunch of his songs as Classic Country songs …….. and after listening to both; I know which I prefer and which is more relevent…. and here’s my thoughts on it. History will undoubtedly show that Elvis Costello is one of our country’s finest ever Songwriters; but when he meanders off into Avant Garde territories he loses me; and presumably you too. SPOILER ALERT! Nothing here is going to be from the Dolly Parton playbook of jolly sing-alongs; this is very much the dark end of a lonely street in North Tree Stump; but hey ….. what else would you expect from this combo. COUNTRY DARKNESS is a culmination of the three EP’S that My Darling Clementine have recently released of their adaptations of a variety of Costello’s songs; and it has come as something of a breath of fresh air in late 2020. As is their won’t Michael and Lou don’t look at the ‘obvious’ for their selection; and with opening song Either Side of The Same Town, take us down a very dark and lonely side street as they reveal that Costello’s words are just perfect for this variation on a them; and Attraction original; Steve Nieve makes his keyboards sound like they are at a cold and damp funeral, for extra pathos, as if it was needed. While an Elvis Costello fan, I don’t recognise several songs here as they are from albums that I’ve hardly ever played; so hearing Michael and Lou wail and plead their way through That Day Is Done, Still Too Soon to Know and the tragic Why Can’t a Man Stand Alone has been like discovering a rare treasure in the attic; and when I went back to the originals they didn’t sound half as good as these re-inventions. Fact. Of the songs I do recognise and love; I’ll Wear it Proudly sounds like George and Tammy singing a Johnny and June song that was written by Willie Nelson; as it just bleeds Country tragedy in this format. While more up-tempo than what goes before; Stranger in The House is still as dark and scary as Elvis Costello’s version and every other version you’ve heard; but somehow My Darling Clementine still manage to add their very own potency to an already simmering gumbo. With Lou Dalgleish taking the lead Indoor Fireworks sounds as intensely passionate as the original; but takes on a whole new life when Michael’s part comes in to create a genuine bonafide 21st Century Country Classic, which runs Laura Cantrell’s ever so lonely version a very close race indeed. As I regularly say; COUNTRY DARKNESS is a good old fashioned Long Player that deserves your full attention and needs to be played from start to finish. That said; in a parallel universe it’s also full to the brim with hit singles; the type that kill the mood when you put them on a jukebox. The nearest to Country Pop and therefore eminently danceable; The Crooked Line revolves around Steve Nieve’s wondrous swinging organ and some militaristic drumming in the background; and serves as a rare shaft of sunshine on a very dark day. Which is also where I’m going for my Favourite Song here, which is a coin toss between Heart Shaped Bruise and the new track Powerless (which didn’t feature on the EP’s). From My Darling Clementine’s very own pens, Powerless certainly squeezes out the pathos of Michael’s words and it also sits in very well on an album of sombre and brooding Country songs; which is a helluva surprise when you hear what goes before it. The other; and the one song here I had to take a deep breath before listening to, is Heart Shaped Bruise. Elvis did this as a duet with Emmylou Harris on THE DELIVERY MAN, and it’s been a personal favourite of mine ever since. So; is this better? No….. of course not; but it’s very close to getting very close to the perfection of the original; and yes ……. I can imagine any or all of the classic Country Couples singing this it the Opry; and if they had, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house ….. or at home in TV and Radio Land. All in all this has been a brave album to record; but one that makes perfect sense when you know My Darling Clementine AND Elvis Costello; it’s a three-way marriage made in Nashville Heaven; and of course Steve Nieve is the Best Man too.
Very Personal Country Songs For You To Interpret in Your Own Fashion.
Let’s go back three years when Ashley Campbell played at SummerTyne Festival in Gateshead. Alongside the national cognoscenti at the time, my friends in the local Roots Music community were wetting themselves with excitement at the prospect of seeing (and hearing?) Glen Campbell’s daughter; but then seemed to spend the whole gig playing Top Trumps with the variety and nationality of venues they’d seen her Father play over the decades, which seemed to me, to be at the detriment of young Ashley on stage. A year or so later she released her debut album, THE LONELY ONE, which again was praised to the Heaven’s albeit with copious mentions of her Sainted Father filling many column inches. Personally, I was underwhelmed by both the concert and the album (so much so, I didn’t even review it). It’s now 2020, and the world is in the midst of a particularly cruel pandemic and in the hands of crazy politicians, left, right and indeed centre; and the only antidote I can think of is music, music, music. Yet again, we have to thank my serendipitous IPhone for bringing this to my attention this morning; albeit a couple of weeks late. Out on my early morning walk the stunning and stinging Good To Let Go, which was my second song of the morning, oozed into my ears like a fog and genuinely stopped me in my tracks. While Ashley is telling a taught tale of a relationship that has struggled to close; in my case my Mother in Law of 42 years years had died 12 hours previously after battling Covid and dementia for 6 horrid months; and this song couldn’t have been more apt for how I was feeling, especially as the sun tried to break through the grey clouds casting its light over the bright Autumn leaves. Of course I’m an old romantic…… but come on; I ask you; if this had happened to you? So with tears running down my cheeks I continued on apace, through the hauntingly beautiful Forever’s Not That Long (which just may be the best song Loretta and Dolly never sung!) and the mellow heartbreaker of a duet with Vince Gill, If It Wasn’t. Pull yourself together man! I kept telling myself. These songs aren’t about ‘you’ ….. Ashley Campbell has no idea who you are! But, that’s the power of great music isn’t it? Ashley Campbell has written a bunch of very personal songs from her own life; that I (and no doubt) you too, will interpret in your own special way. Without actually re-listening to her debut album; I feel Ms. Campbell has taken a deep breath and dug deep into her own experiences and influences for this album; gently shrugging the shadow of her Father from her shoulders; although her love song to Glen, Remembering is as raw as it is heartwarming …… and yet again made me cry salty tears for the second time in half an hour. Perhaps one of the things that ‘turned me off’ that night at Sage Gateshead was Ashley’s dependence oh her banjo ……. and a mighty fine banjo player she is; but it’s a thing of moderation at RMHQ; so while the rest of the tracks here are based around the more ‘commercial’ guitar format, it’s therefore a refreshing treat to hear the instrumental Moustache Man, with Ashley showing some rather unique dexterity on this much maligned instrument. While a lot of albums this year have been quite spartan in their production; this on the other hand is fair luscious at times; with a string section swooping in and out on occasion; most notably on Alice; but there are other offerings too. Before I get onto my Favourite Song; I simply must mention the finale; Ashley’s rather lovely version of Good Vibrations, which keeps the ‘feel’ of the original, but adds some spicy banjo; and of course her own fabulous vocals. For my Favourite Song I’m torn between two rather different songs; the title track Something Lovely features those sumptuous strings again and some really intricate guitar picking, while Ashley’s voice really, really picks out the sentiments in the words. But; the song I’m choosing is Suitcase Heart; primarily because I love the ‘metaphor’ of her ‘heart being a suitcase’ as she can’t maintain a relationship ……. a very simple construction; but never the less an extremely ‘clever song’ too; that’s nonetheless accessible and very commercial too ……. just perfect for radio, methinks. Love it! I stand by my thoughts from 2017 and 18; so my new found love affair with Ashley Campbell’s music starts today and will continue unabated forever (I hope).
Sturgill Simpson Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions High Top Mountain Records (via Thirty Tigers)
Simpson’s Back Catalogue Revisited and Re-Imagined in (almost) Traditional Style
Described in some quarters as a “surprise” Bluegrass album, the only surprise actually comes from the unexpected timing of the release; and Simpson’s timely decision to revisit a great deal of prior material, and less from the fact that Simpson is putting out as a Bluegrass album. Simpson’s first band Sunday Valley exhibited many features of the genre (Check out their 2011 take on “Sometimes Wine” on YouTube which involves frenetic electric flatpicking and Bluegrass structures and chords almost turned into Cowpunk – https://youtu.be/LcVdCI84tFI ) – only to reappear here in a more traditional form. Assembling an absolutely top-notch cast of players (Sierra Hull, Tim O’Brien, Mike Bub and Stuart Duncan to name but four) the quality of playing is absolutely stellar as might be expected. What is there to gain from doing this then? Well, apart from the musicians having a great time, this release places the songs to the fore – and to my ears, is all the better for the back to basics approach as I sometimes struggle with some of Simpson’s more far-out experimental moments. That’s not to say that this is a firmly Traditional approach – Sierra Hull’s soaring reverby backing vocals on “Breakers Roar” and the out of tune/in tune slidey fiddle intro to “Just Let Go” are two of many little moments where Bluegrass forms are adapted and played with, but fully in support of the song – and there’s actual percussion on the album too – on a Bluegrass album! “Life of Sin” from “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” comes across as a timeless Classic Bluegrass tune and “Turtles All The Way Down” now has the feel of JD Crowe and the New South with Waylon Jennings fronting them. “Railroad of Sin” with its Bob Wills cattle calls turns into a frantic stomper and Scott Vestal’s banjo drives along “Sitting Here Without You” and many uptempo others. Of the slower, mid-tempo numbers “Time After All” originally on “High Top Mountain” now allows space for more delicate leads and breaks and philosophical lyricism “..it’s only time after all…” whereas “Voices” comes across as a dark old-timey narrative ballad (with the longest gradual fade you’ll hear in ages) – as on a lot of these reimagined songs, Sturgill’s lyricism now has more room to come to the fore. By utilising more formal-traditional musical structures, the listener’s emphasis (well this listener anyway) is the voice and its message rather than the shock of the metamodern (sic)…Country Music. Big credit to producer David Ferguson too, for constructing a dynamic and varied soundscape throughout with instruments appearing in and out against a solid rhythmic mix. If you’re a Sturgill Simpson fan, then I can’t see how you can’t but love this take on his back catalogue – and there’ll be many who’ll prefer some of these versions to the originals (me!). If you’re a Traditional Bluegrass fan and Sturgill Simpson wasn’t on your radar (unlikely I know) then this release might seem like the Next Big Thing in Bluegrass; in a fairly conservative musical form in many ways, this takes enough risks while maintaining sufficient respect allied to Simpson’s trademarked strong songwriting. A win-win for Mr Simpson on all counts.
Joe Meek meets David Lynch at the Bang Bang Bar on Dolly Parton night.
It’s been said before about Rachel Brooke, that her music is a cocktail of old and new and that mixture is shaken AND stirred, to exciting effect on “The Loneliness in Me”. Melodically and structurally, Ms Brooke’s songs mine glorious countrypolitan melancholy – in terms of their setting and production things get nicely weird. Opener “It Ain’t Over ‘Till You’re Crying,” is a wry kiss-off song swathed in Twang and pedal steel that sounds like it’s sprung forth from a Barbarella B-Movie. “Great Mistake” which follows, ups the tremulous guitar Twang further still against a mid-paced in and out double-shuffle and a gorgeously honeyed vocal performance. “The Hard Way” is pure Lynchian sonic goodness with epic soaring harmonies. Brooke’s voice is not a conventional Country instrument – her delicious alto reaching into deeper and more mysterious regions than you’d ever hear on mainstream country radio. Title track “The Loneliness In Me” rattles along with warmly distorted ‘chicken picking’, giving the song real body and fire punctuated by frantic fiddle and a Folsom Prison style drop out section – definitely my kind of music! “Picture on My Wall” is a Patsy Cline tempo set against an intergalactic *Joe Meek type production, followed by “It Won’t Be Long” which starts as a more conventional country two-stepper; but then launches into some spectacularly brazen guitar licks from another planet altogether. “Ghost Of You” would fit perfectly into an episode of “Twin Peaks;” with its dominant snare, ethereal pedal steel and detached reverb-soaked vocal – not forgetting the Lynchian lyrical voyage into dreams and mystery. “The Lovells Stockade Blues” is part walking blues, but rhythmically it shoots far, far away from the ploddiness of many in that format; largely by dynamic and clever drumming which shift rhythm and emphasis as the song requires it. “Lucky and Alone” is a move back into 50’s Kitty Wells type melody, but with the instrumental elements becoming an almost Phil Spector-like Country ‘wall of sound’. Countrypolitan strings lead the listener in on “The Awful Parts of Me” and swirl throughout a tale of strange love before climactically ending with Beach Boy “Woo woo woos” to the singalong chorus. Penultimate track “Undecided Love” is a laid back classic ballad that sounds like it could have been recorded in a backwoods studio by an oddball genius in 1962; just before the Beatles arrived – it’s truly that wonderful. Things come to an end with “I Miss It Like It’s Gone” which starts with a single strummed guitar before expanding with soaring vocal tones and syncopated snare, leaving the listener in a big puddle of decaying reverb and delay, ending an album that is spectacular in ambition and scope – fans of Joe Meek, Joana Serrat, David Lynch and Richard Hawley will adore this album – the rest of y’all need to catch up.
*Joe Meek; for our American cousins was the ‘British Phil Spector’ back in the 1960’s ……. famed for his own ‘distinctive production style.’
We don’t receive near enough ‘Classic’ Country here; perhaps it’s because not enough is recorded these days ….. which is scary if you think about it. Now; I say ‘Classic Country’ but even that name gets a bit dismembered these days, doesn’t it? What I know as ‘Classic’ is another man’s ‘Insurgent’ or probably even ‘Countrypolitain’ or whatever; but it sure as Hell ain’t what you see on the CMA’s that’s for sure! Dave Rosewood; once a native of the Ozark’s and now firmly ensconced in Sweden ticks all of those boxes; which is why this release excited me when I first heard it was on its way to me. Opening track Long Distance Love starts with a cursory, “1, 2, 3 …4” before the Twangfest kicks in; with Dave telling his twist of the Country staple; someone having to earn their wages many miles from home and keeping in touch via the telephone; but in this case there may be a twist as to which character is the one ‘keeping house’ while the other is away; and it swings like pendulum in a storm. I don’t feel that this is a ‘Country Rock Opera’ as such; but to some intents and purposes it is something of a concept album; as Rosewood’s songs are the type of fantasy that we all love from this type of music and drift easily from one to the next. He may or may not have actually lived the life of the main character in the dark and melancholic Sarah (The Cowboy Song) or even Drinkin’ Man; but he manages to make the ‘character’ intensely believable and will have many listeners thinking that these songs are about them or at least someone they now. The way he tells his stories conjure up ‘mini movies’ in the head with little effort; even the very neat and clever title track, No Rodeo in Rome; which should obviously be filmed in monochrome (I think); and the laid back Two Steps where the natural warble in Dave’s weary voice sounds like it could crack at any moment. While not actually taking the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song; as it’s not actually a song, Sunset is stunning in many ways. Is it a short story? A Cowboy poem set to music? I’m not sure and damn sure don’t care; but I love it and the world needs more like this. No Rodeo i Rome is a short album; coming in at only 8 tracks long; but that still leaves me in a dilemma as to selecting between the windswept and 100% authentic Cowboy Moon and the wonderful almost breathless instrumental, Canyons which sounds like the soundtrack to a Sam Peckinpah follow up to The Wild Bunch; but I’m probably tempted to go for the former as it really is the benchmark for a rather intriguing and tragically beautiful set of Country Songs; the likes of which you don’t hear enough of in the 21st Century.
Daniel Meade and Lloyd Reid IF YOU DON’T MIND Self-Release
100 x More Country or Americana Than 99% of Albums That Claim To Be.
Daniel Meade and Lloyd Reid hail from the River Clyde Delta in the foothills of Olde Scotia and make some of the finest darn Country Music that your ears are ever likely to hear. What more do you need to know? I have spoken. Oh! That’s not enough for you is it? Well, this is the pairs umpteenth album together in what has been a very fluid career, combining big ole City Centre gigs with their band The Flying Mules and village halls across the UK in whatever other format was necessary. No two gigs or albums are ever the same; but you always know that Daniel Meade’s exquisite singing voice and heartfelt songs will make you despair that you aren’t actually watching a world famous Star of the Opry; because that’s what he sounds like to me. On to their latest release; and one that has been a long time in the making and one of the best things to come out of music’s Annus Horriblus; ‘Lockdown 2020’, which forced the duo to use modern technology in the most old fashioned manner to create a fairly simple production that makes these songs all come alive in a way that you can’t find in many studios.
There’s a melancholic late night Honky Tonk feeling to opening track If You Don’t Mind that makes you think back to the glorious days of Hank and George on the wireless. The harmonies are absolutely spot on and the story in Meade’s song hangs in the air long after it’s finished. To the untutored ear this album would probably be classed as Old Time Country; but that is doing Meade’s songwriting a huge disservice; as his subject matter is invariably more contemporary than just about anything coming out of Nashville this century. This certainly applies to It’s Hard To Be a Man These Days and the mad minute that is Give This World a Shake; although their arrangements and Lloyd Reid’s astonishing guitar runs are certainly Old School or more pertinently Classic Country in my book. For only two people, Meade and Reid create a ‘big sound’; but we already know what a multi-talented musician Dan Meade is; and that comes to the fore with his Dooley Wilson style piano playing on the winsome heartbreaker Good Heart Gone Astray and a few songs earlier the rather jaunty and black humour of Mother of Mercy. Everyone who buys this album is going to have a different Favourite Song, that’s for sure; as each will touch different people in different ways; again this is my way of saying that Daniel Meade is a very clever songwriter. At present I’m torn between the Western Swing of Why You Been Gone So Long? The dark and almost Gothic Sleeping on the Streets of Nashville, which will resonate with far too many musicians who travel to Music City with so much hope in their hearts, and almost always ends in tears. The other; and what I’m actually selecting as my actual Favourite Song on a rather special album is ………. cue drum roll……… Choking on the Ashes (That I’ve Burned); a bonafide Country tearjerker with Everly Brothers style harmonies and while that’s the Twang we associate with Chet Atkins; I’m also hearing (not for the first time or last here) more than a smidgen of Jazz Master Barney Kessell in Lloyd’s mellifluous guitar runs. If you are a fan of Country Music, or even Americana you are going to absolutely love this album; but the sad part is that because Daniel Meade and Lloyd Reid don’t play the ‘corporate game’ IF YOU DON’T MIND isn’t likely to feature in any Awards ceremonies at the end of the year; yet it is 100 x more Country or Americana than 99% of the albums that will.