Bloodshot – 13 Days of Xmas (2017)
A Fairytale of Chicago With Extra Special Presents.
Discovering Bloodshot’s compilation albums 20 years or more ago was my gateway to what is now known as Americana Music; but back then was called Insurgent Country; and I still kinda like that name.
Never shy at celebrating Public Holidays with the release of a new record; this year they have pulled an oddball collection of Bloodshot acts and assorted friends together to celebrate Christmas and it’s as cool and crazy as you’d hope and expect.
I hadn’t checked the track list the first time I played this (a sunny November morning btw!) and I would have sworn opening track O Holy Night was the Pride of Sheffield Richard Hawley; such is the dry and droll way the vocalist delivers the words; but no…..it’s actually Murder by Death; and rather beautiful in a dark manner.
Track #2 was a giveaway as soon as I heard that sexy baritone declare “I’m Papa Barrence!” Who else could it be but the one and only Barrence Whitfield and the Savages; and it’s an absolute doozy.
Brand new Bloodshot signing Ruby Boots makes her label debut with a very sexy I Slept Through Christmas; and I now can’t wait for the release of her new album in the new year.
Old Bloodshot hands Jon Langford, Ha Ha Tonka, Dex Romweber and Devil in a Woodpile all make Seasonal appearances with a variety of attitudes towards the Festivities; but it’s the newcomers that have caught my attention.
James Elkington’s Christmas Is Now Drawing Near sounds like he’s been listening to a lot of John Martyn and Nick Drake; whereas Zach Schmidt goes for Country 1:01 with I’m Drunk Again This Christmas but the biggest surprise of all is Ron Gallo doing a straight version of White Christmas albeit with a pedal-steel in the background.
There are three serious contenders for the title of Favourite Song; could it be RMHQ darlings The Yawpers with Christmas in Oblivion; an almost Lo-Fi observation on the times we live in; or is it the prison melodrama How To Make Gravy from All Our Exes Live In Texas (who I REALLY need to hear more of) or will it be the woman I’ve had a crush on for 17 years? Yup…it’s Miss Kelly Hogan and the delicate Christmas love song, Blue Snowfall.
As you’d expect with a Compilation some songs work better than others; but sometimes it’s a matter of personal taste but the best of these tracks are among the very best Christmas songs you will hear this; or any other year.
Released November 17th 2017
This has been a bit of a stop-start release for me, with some confusion over the release date; but it’s here NOW and is hopefully a fantastic teaser/taster for the album that will be released in early 2018.
A onetime member of Guitar Shorty’s band Arkansas Dave; funnily enough comes from Arkansas and was brought up in a home split down the middle with Fundamental Christianity and drug addiction on the other; which no doubt about it colours his songwriting…..and in this case; choice of song to cover.
Much like my relationship with Bob Dylan songs; I much prefer Tom Waits songs sung by someone else and here Arkansas Dave does a wonderful job with his interpretation of a Waits Classic.
Now…..where’s my album?
Released October 31st 2017
Swinging Sounds For Modern Country Lovers.
Recently I’ve been embroiled in a couple of arguments (inc. 2 x Twitter spats) regarding what is/isn’t Country Music these days, with far too many sub-genres muddying the waters; so let’s just say singer-songwriter Case Garrett is the embodiment of 21st Century Country Music; and just leave it at that.
Regular readers will know my penchant for good cover art and AURORA is certainly a winner on that front; proving you can judge an album by the cover.
Opening track What Can I Say? is one of those semi-autobiographical songs that Country artistes do so well; it’s obviously been a ‘life well lived’ and the song tells a sorry tale with a happy ending.
This is followed by the deep, dark and sultry Long Way Down, which sees Garrett again exploring his doleful past; but a wailing fiddle, steel guitar and a voice from the swamps makes for a beautifully bittersweet song that will stay in the memory for a very long time, and in this case Garrett finally finds redemption in the unadulterated love of his son.
Don’t despair this isn’t all doom and gloom; Case Garrett has a mighty good sense of humour too and can fit it into a song better than most; with Fill Er’ Up (about a Loving Cup) sounding like a late night drinking song that I would sing-along too and The Thought of You about a man who comes home “kinda drunk/kinda horny” and starts thinking about his ex, but can’t find his phone to send her a midnight text, very nearly became our ‘Favourite Track’ and I can guarantee it will be a fan favourite when played live. It certainly made me smile the first time I heard it, and then immediately pressed ‘replay.’
One song gets featured twice, with an Alternate Mix of Going Down To Mobile closing the album and both versions when sat alongside Case’s punchy version of Call Me The Breeze really sets the tone for the cool Southern/Country-Rock feel of the whole album; as especially does our favourite track She Never Liked Elvis; an expression his Mother used when Garrett was growing up in rural Louisiana.
Even if Case Garrett was to busk outside the 2018 CMA’s or whatever I doubt he will ever trouble the Awards Committee but, trust me if you like quality modern Country Music with a timeless feel to it, look no further…..you will love AURORA by Case Garrett.
Released November 3rd 2017
Brett Perkins & The Pawnshop Preachers
PUT A FORK IN ME I’M DONE
Who Knew Music Could Still Be Cool And F-U-N?
This little beauty has been sitting on the desk for a few months now and I keep meaning to review it for you, but ‘more important’ CD’s have kept coming along and it gets missed…..but no longer, my friends….NO LONGER, as it came into its own today as a soundtrack for several visits to hospital where Mrs. Magpie is/was awaiting a serious operation!
Why would I speak so highly of an album by an Oklahoman expat living in Denmark that you or I have never heard of? Well, with my head and heart all over the shop, the last thing I needed today was a bunch of whiny love songs that would have made me burst into tears every 3 minutes; no sirree….I needed Love Songs, yes….but ones that made me smile, and The Pawnshop Preachers do that as well as anyone I’ve heard since Dr. Hook still had a Medicine Show.
On track #1 It’s Possible a wonderfully sweet steel guitar seeps from the speakers just before a breathless Perkins regales us with a jaunty tale of having to work real hard to one his damsel’s love….and I’ve been there!
This is followed by the most traditional Roots/Country song on the album I Could Stay With You; but even though the lyrics are sharp and biting don’t expect a ‘she done me wrong’ whiny song; this boy knows his place and how hard it is to win her attention; all played to a Rockabilly beat.
When She Loves My Belly and My Bald Spot came on the car stereo, my smile was a mile wide because….well…I will leave that your imagination. Perkins who runs songwriting workshops; certainly knows how to write a quality song; and sing from the heart (with his tongue stuck very firmly in his cheek!)
What can I say? Many songs here; I Just Feel Good (For No Particular Reason) and Pretty Girls (Gotta Work Twice as Hard) are great examples; are just F-U-N for the sake of it; just like those original 50’s Rock n Rollers and 60’s Beat Sensations we grew up with…..there ain’t no hidden or deep meanings to be discussed……just dance and smile!
The only contemporary artist that I think is comparable would be Robbie Fulks; most especially on Get Me Outta Nashville and the wonderful title track Put a Fork In Me; but also the the sing-along Alt.Gospel Just Like Jesus and the Honky-Tonkin’ B.I.B.L.E which are guaranteed to have Maiden Aunts throwing their hands up in horror…..but Cool Cats like us belting out the chorus with gusto!
I’ve been playing and loving this disc for a couple of weeks; but today one song took on a whole new resonance and had me bellowing out every line without a care as I drove backwards and forwards to the hospital…….and while it has no baring whatsoever on my relationship with Mrs. Magpie; but She’s Got Champagne Taste On My Beer Budget was a case of hearing a song ‘right place and right time’! Therefore it is ‘my Favourite Track’ by a country mile.
Ragtime guitar, barrel-house piano, dinner jazz drum n bass and the Countriest warble you are ever going to hear…….10/10.
It takes a top songwriter and set of musicians to create music this cool and sloppy; and trust me Brett Perkins and the Pawnshop Preachers fit that statement perfectly.
Released 21st June 2017
Single of the Day
One of our favourite ‘Undiscovered’ Queens of Country Miss Brenda Burch is releasing a new single from the Sparks Will Fly EP in the UK and Europe on November 1st.
The video is full of autumn trees, a cool pickup truck, old cars and Brenda taking a few swings on the golf course…..what’s not to like on a grey, damp English Autumn morning?
It’s all about letting go of the old, making room for the new and doing fun things you love to do.
RHYTHM OF THE RAIN
White Wolf Records
Mmmmmm, Smokey and Sultry Songs of Love, Life and Grief.
Sometimes it’s difficult to put into words why you like a particular singer or band; but with Amelia White her voice tugged at my very heartstrings the first time I heard it 5 or 6 years ago; and the stories she tells and the way she sings them makes me go weak at the knees every time they come out of the office Hi-Fi.
RHYTHM OF THE RAIN is Amelia’s 8th album in nearly twenty years and ( #SpoilerAlert ) is by far her most mature and probably the best I’ve heard.
The intro to opening track Little Cloud Over Little Rock sounds like a cool Indie Alt. Country band is about to kick in; them Amelia’s haunting and slightly smokey voice filters out of the speakers and a whole new aura envelopes the proceedings.
The story is full of intimate detail you’d normally associate with writers like Dylan and Joni or maybe Springsteen; not someone you’ve probably never heard of before. The character in the song has ‘dyed black hair and ear feather rings/she’s gotta put three kids through school/she’s sipping on the sly/to keep her cool’…..see what I mean? And it’s got a cool melody too.
Songs like Sinking Sun and Yuma probably sum up my feelings about Amelia White best; not quite Southern Gothic, but pretty damn close and with a swampy Country feel to them too; sort of as if Bobbie Gentry was singing her saddest songs with Creedence backing her.
There are Love Songs here aplenty; but not the ‘Moon in June’ type; these are dark and mysterious; the type you find later in life……listen to Sugar Baby and Supernova without getting a shiver down your back, and you are a stronger person than I am.
If this is your type of music; and I presume it is if you are still reading this far; you will absolutely love the title track Rhythm of the Rain; and my personal ‘favourite’ song here…….Let The Wind Blow, which closes the proceedings. In theory a simple enough song until you listen a second time, and even more intently the third and fourth times as a gorgeous story unfolds and unravels like a magical fairytale.
While these songs were written long before Amelia went into the studio; but when you realise that this album was written in the four short days between her Mother’s funeral and her own wedding; you will find an extra special spirituality in the way she delivers these beautiful songs.
Released October 27th 2017
Ags Connolly and Jeremy Pinnell
Gateshead, Tyne and Wear
We’ve liked Ags Connolly for a few years now at RMHQ but Jeremy Pinnell has been a brand new discovery this year and his album Blood and Affection is a key contender for the title of Album of the Year; so when I heard that they would be playing the newish Prohibition Bar in the shadow of Sage Gateshead all of the stops were pulled out so I could attend.
After 3 weeks of trying and with only 48 hours to go I managed to swap shifts with a colleague, and with hardly enough time to grow a beard and get the Grand-kids to draw pictures on my arms that I would pretend were tattoos I entered the latest hipster bar to be greeted by the gregarious Mr Connolly who was standing at the bar.
Twenty minutes later a nervous looking Jeremy Pinnell made his way onto the corner stage and framed by some fabulous velvet curtains, closed his eyes and immediately punched the adoring crowd straight in the heart with a stark and beautiful rendition of Ballad of 1892, and as the final words left his mouth you could genuinely hear a pin drop until the applause nearly took the roof off (which would have been difficult as the Aberdeen to London railway line ran above!).
Without the fabulous band that accompanied him on the record Pinnell proved that a great song doesn’t need a big production, as he proved by pretty much singing the whole album tonight with just a simple acoustic guitar and a fascinating voice; all of which kept us enthralled for just under an hour.
Highlights? Phew…..everything? If pushed Different Kind of Love became even more delicate than I could have ever imagined and Country don’t get any Countrier than hearing Jeremy Pinnell singing Take The Wheel only six feet away from where you are sitting and the Honky Tonky I don’t Believe; suddenly became sad and full of poignancy when stripped right back to the bone, like tonight.
Pinnell even managed to throw in a brand new song, Blue Ribbon Blues (?) and a wonderful Gary Stewart song too.
After a very short break Ags Connolly took to the stage and halfway through his first song, a couple tried to sneak past the stage telling him “Sorry, but we’ve got a train to catch!”
Connolly was the perfect foil for Jeremy, as the English ‘Ameripolitan’ singer-songwriter has a punchier style with the guitar and a rich baritone voice; which both came to fore on his trademark bittersweet ballads Slow Burner and Nothin’ Unexpected; but it was the inclusion of an old Cowboy Song Diamond Joe that really caught my attention…..probably as I’ve not heard the album it comes from; and the world needs more Cowboy Songs in my opinion.
Ags too included a shiny new song; written after a break-up in Austin Texas, and I swear every woman in the room had a tear in her eyes as he sang Lonely Nights in Austin; then wanted to give him a cuddle at the end.
Two particular songs really showed his class in this world, and still have me shaking my head as to why he’s still playing in front of a handful of people on a Monday night instead of headlining much bigger venues. Just like Pinnnell’s stripped back songs tonight I Hope You’re Unhappy and The Night I Saw James Hand were quite spectacular when sung like this.
The evening was rounded off with Pinnell joining Connolly on stage for three songs; and it really was a magical experience hearing them them stroll through Jeremy’s Ain’t Nothing Wrong, Ags’ Good Memory For pain and a delightful rendition of Hank’s When God Gathers His Jewels.
What a fabulous way to spend a Monday night; with the only downside being the size of the audience; but then again that just added to the ‘magic of the evening’ by making it more intimate and memorable for everyone who did attend, and there wasn’t a Cowboy hat in sight.
Full photo-set courtesy Harrisonaphotos
ALL AMERICAN MADE
Third Man Records
A Classic Country Cocktail With a Bittersweet Twist.
Now here’s a thing. Some of my American and Canadian friends have been raving about Margo Price for a few years now; and recently my British friends and fellow writers have been on the case since she released her debut album in 2016 (which I never received) and then embarked on several UK Tours that didn’t include my stomping ground in the NE.
So as someone who prides himself with being ‘first on the case’, it was with mixed emotions that I slid the shiny silver disc into the office stereo.
Thirty seconds into opening track Don’t Say It I had already raised an eyebrow and a further thirty seconds later listening to Margo’s delicious warble on the classy Country heartbreaker I was smitten and saw what all the fuss has been about.
Oh Lordy Lord! The Saturday night Hoe-down really kicks in on the next song Weakness; a real two-steppin’ belter worthy of Loretta or Tammy in their prime.
Even though Margo would have fit in perfectly, this in no homage to the Golden Era of Country; this is Contemporary Country of the finest order as the young woman from Illinois shows her true heritage by not just name checking ‘Levon Helm’ as she sings her heart out on A Little Pain; a song so personal and intimate it’s difficult to listen to at times; but that organist could be Garth Hudson if I’m not mistaken. Obviously it’s not, but there’s a hint of the Band as Margo and the Price Tags let rip with all of their might. That ‘contemporary’ touch continues as she injects some gorgeous Country-Soul into Do Right By Me; which has a hook that will real you in like a big fat Catfish.
I used the term ‘Contemporary’ earlier and that’s exactly what songs like Pay Gap, Cocaine Cowboys and Heart of American are…..Blue Collar politics at it’s finest; and as usual it takes a woman to show the men how it should be done!
Now, it’s a lovely song and pretty much as good as anything else included here but I very nearly didn’t mention Learning To Lose; but only because this duet with the legendary Willie Nelson will be the single song that the Nationals will hear and not get past; just because it’s Willie and that’s not fair at all. If they give the whole album the time it deserves they will find that Learning To Lose is only one piece in a fantastic musical jigsaw.
On the one hand there’s nothing new here, as Elizabeth Cook delivered a couple of similar albums that twisted Classic C&W in knots a few of years ago; but Margo has taken those songs as starting points and ran like Hell with the ball for ‘touchdowns’ with the sorrowful Nowhere Fast and deceptively simple Loner; which will punch you in the heart the first time you hear it.
There are two versions of a B-Side called Drunk Driving included too; with one, which includes a swear word coming very close to being our favourite track; and while it has a ‘funny punch-line’ to it, it’s still a subject close to our hearts here at RMHQ and still a taboo subject; but kills more young people in the UK than anything else.
But I’m going for the the stinging title track All American Made for the honour of Favourite Track, as it manages to convey the feelings that many/most/all of my American friends seem to feel but can’t articulate these days; but Margo does and shows what a marvelous way with words she has; and couple that to the Mash-up of radio broadcasts and the finale when a choir streams in…….it’s different; but brilliant in it’s own way.
So, everyone was right and my stubbornness in not looking deeper into the Margo Price story shows what a fool I can be; but at least that mistake has been rectified at last; and now I can’t wait to see and hear play these beauties live some time soon.
Released October 20th 2017
Emotionally Raw Contemporary Country.
This album very nearly got lost on the maelstrom that is the RMHQ Reviews Desk……but, trust me it’s far too good to miss.
From the compelling opening track Stand, to the closer Wood & Steel everything about this album screams ‘Country Star,’ yet Deep Cuts appears to be his debut; and if it is he’s a very mature songwriter indeed.
That first song, Stand caught me completely unawares the first time I heard it; and today; four months later it still has the quality to make me sit up and pay attention.
A song called Made follows; with some stinging pedal-steel and a haunting piano on a song so sad it can only be a Country Song; the type of Blue-Collar heartbreaker that the ‘Hat Acts’ can’t really sing with conviction; but when you hear the pain in Foster’s voice you know this is the ‘real deal.’
The production on tracks like The Ol’ Days and Revival make them sound like they would be best heard in a sold-out stadium; but Foster also has the knack of telling the most intimate tale in Caught or especially Drinking at Home, with it’s mournful accordion; when even a house concert would sound too crowded; such is the masterful way he not only tells a story, but sings it too.
To some degree long haired Country/Americana singers with scraggy beards are ‘two a penny’ these days; but as is always the case there are always a hidden diamond somewhere; and Kenny Foster certainly falls into that category; especially when he can deliver songs like Revival and the tale of teenage heart break, Old Fashioned without them even coming into the reckoning for the title of ‘RMHQ Favourite Song.’
That title is a tie between the feisty and danceable Good Enough (my choice) and the slow and delightful Hearts That Bend (Mrs. Magpies #1).
As I implied earlier; it’s a very crowded marketplace for Country/Americana singer-songwriters at the moment; but quality will always rise to the top and I expect that to happen to Kenny Foster very, very soon.
Released April 17th 2017
The Reigning Queen of Country Digs Deep Into Her Heart and Soul.
It can be a bit of a slog some weeks listening to music that very few others will ever hear then writing glowing prose that never gets re-promoted by lazy PR’S and Record Labels……some artists too btw; then there is always a little ray of light like when an artist takes the time to thank us personally or, as happened earlier this year a pretty damn big PR Company in London Town got in touch offering an album because the guitarist was a fan of the site!
Their latest offering is this …..the fifth album in 24 years for legendary Country Queen Miss Shania Twain!
I have to confess……hang on, why should it be a ‘confession’ that we actually own Shania’s first three albums…..alongside 70 million other people it has to be said; and I guess that there’s hardly a minute in every 24 hours that one of her songs isn’t being played on a radio show somewhere in the Western World…..that’s how BIG Shania Twain is.
So…..I guess the Music Industry isn’t waiting with baited breath for my thoughts on an album with millions of pre-sales already in the bank.
But here goes…….
NOW kicks off, and that’s as good a description as any with the awesome Swinging With My Eyes Closed. Already a hit single; this has a sort of strange reggaeish lilt to the melody (which Mrs Magpie can’t here btw) but it’s all about Shania’s voice; isn’t it? And she sure doesn’t disappoint with a classy song destined to become a fan favourite every night.
It was only after reading her bio that I remembered that the sassy Canadian had actually retired once because of ‘vocal problems’ …..not that you would know it when she belts out the likes of You Can’t Buy Love and Life’s About To Get Good; as well if not better than singers half her age.
One of the questions always raised is ‘is Shania Twain’ Country? Of course she is! Yes, these songs have huge productions to them; but listen to Who’s Going To Be Your Girl? or We’ve Got Something They Haven’t and you will not just hear a banjo and a Twangtastic guitar but hear a heartbroken theme that started for me with Tammy and Dolly in the 60’s and still burns brightly in 2017 with Shania Twain.
In a week that I spent a lot of time listening to Whitney Rose’s new Countrypolitan album; it’s easy for me to compare it to this beauty……they are completely different but very similar at their core…….a strong woman writing and singing about their life; good bits and lots of bad bits too.
The album closes with Soldier, a beautiful ballad that will break hearts and make others swell with pride as it straddles the fence between mawkish and venerable with grace; and will be sung amid thousands of flickering mobile-phones at concerts and
When it comes to the RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’ bizarrely both Mrs. Magpie (who has seconded this disc) both agree that it has to be Light of My Life; a lovely, breathy acoustic led ballad, in the mode of Dusty Springfield rather than the Country Queens you would normally think of.
While still very commercial but without any bombastic Pop-Country songs we would normally associate with Shania Twain; NOW is very intimate and even vulnerable at times and sounds like a woman coming to terms with her life and age, so with that in mind; it will sell in bucket loads to women of the same ‘certain age’ who feel exactly the same way; but can’t put those feelings into words themselves.
Released September 29th 2017