The Winterlings – AMERICAN SON

Winterlings

The Winterlings
AMERICAN SON
Self-Release

Deep, Dark and Often Poetic American Folk Songs.

Just like buying a house, the adage of “Location, location, location” can be used when discovering new music.
Last week Mrs. Magpie was seriously ill in hospital for over two weeks (out and recovering now btw) and on the third night it was cold, damp and very dark as I fired up the car for the journey home; and probably because the mono cover art was very dank and depressing I slid this disc into the car stereo.
As an almost Native American howl filtered out of the speakers I clipped the seat belt into place, and thirty minutes later I was still sitting in the car park almost breathless and with tears streaming down my face.
Obviously my circumstances that night dictated my mood; but the beautiful bleakness of the Winterlings latest album certainly played its part that night; and subsequent nights over the next week.
The duo of Wolff Bowden and Amanda Birdsall share vocal duties; and occasionally harmonise in a way I’ve not heard as good since I first discovered Handsome Family; but without the quirkiness.
Songs like Gold, Owl Mountain and Puget Sound have a distinctive cool and razor-sharp Canadian feel to them; which is where many of the songs here were written, but the couple are 100% USA with Bowden hailing from Florida, not that you would know it from the brittle way these songs are sung.
I guess the Winterlings are at the Folk end of the Americana spectrum; but it’s the end inhabited by the acoustic Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell in the way they too inhabit their songs with sincerity and emotionality; World To Change and Birthplace are prime examples of songwriters with a poets soul.
When it comes to choosing a favourite track for you, I have to jump back to the first two songs; the title track American Son which is simply stunning in the way its constructed, the subject matter and the mostly the way the couple weave their incredible voices together over an intense acoustic back beat.
But; and it’s actually an easy selection the accolade goes to that opening track which totally caught me unawares; The Ghost of Leonard; a tale of Bowden being visited by the Ghost of Leonard Cohen while deep in meditation…….. and I’m not sure I’m going to hear a more compelling opening line than “Lit my body like a cigarette/when I was young/and dreamed of death/your poems fell like ash.”
Much like the duos name, The Winterlings and AMERICAN SON is very much an album for the long, dark and dank nights of Winter and if like me you like the deeper and more ethereal end of Folk Music you will love this album.

Released November 1st 2017
https://www.winterlings.com/home

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Blue Rose Code – THE WATER OF LEITH

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Blue Rose Code
THE WATER OF LEITH
Navigator Records

Winsome Yet Breathtaking Sound of New Scotia.

Where to start? After nearly twenty years, there are some albums I receive where I can actually write an eloquent review the first time I hear them; and others that it takes several plays with no distractions spread over several days so I can savour everything that the music has to offer.
This is one such.
Scottish singer-songwriter Ross Wilson aka Blue Rose Code has been around the scene for a few years now, flitting on and off my radar via various friends who swoon and go weak at the knees at the very mention of his name (and they are real men’s men!), such is the way his music touches people.
It’s easy to hear why that would be the case as the beautiful first song Over The Fields (for John) floats over you like a late Autumnal sunset. Such is the combination of Wilson’s soft voice and words I totally missed the orchestral sweeps that come and go the first three times I listened to the record.
Technically you will probably find this record filed under Folk or Scottish Roots in the shop racks; but songs like Ebb & Flow, Love Is…. and On The Hill Remains a Heart all transcend such myopic depictions.
There is a definite beauty in the way Wilson allows his brogue to come to the fore alongside a young lady singing in her native Celtic tongue on the mildly socio-political Sandaig; and again the mysterious Celtic lady makes an appearance on the haunting Passing Places, which features an amazing slide guitar, violin and cello assemblage.
While never sounding experimental, Wilson throws caution to the wind by adding a Dinner-Jazz atmosphere to the delicate song Child and then adds a Chet Baker type trumpet to Nashville Blue and it all works fantastically well.
Never afraid to be bound by the traditional 3 or 4 minute rule; two songs are allowed to breathe and take on a life of their own, The Water is a heady mix of Jazz trumpet and Classical piano combining to take us into areas I would never have expected to venture on an album that is meant to be ‘Rootsy’.
The cinematic To the Shore immediately follows it and comes in at seven and a half minutes of absolute sensory delight.
I can only describe The Waters Of Leith as an old-fashioned Long Player that must be listened to in one (or two) unencumbered sittings; but I will force myself to pick out a Favourite Track; Bluebell for no other reason than it is a catalyst for everything else that is hear and sort of reminds me of a Traffic in their heyday without sounding anything like them…..if that makes any sense.
Blue Rose Code somehow manage to have ‘easy on the ear’ melodious musical sensibilities with deep and occasionally poetic lyrics that will appeal to a broad section of music lovers, without alienating the Cool Kids who have been with Ross since his earliest days.

Released October 27th 2017
https://bluerosecode.com/

Junior Johnson – COULDA DONE BETTER

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Junior Johnson
COULDA DONE BETTER
Self-Release

Radio-Friendly Rootsy Singer-Songwriter.

It still amuses me how people stumble on our little website and it humbles me when they say nice things about us.
Such was the case with this new three track single from a friend of a friend in Northern Ireland who got in touch just ‘asking for our opinion’ on the music rather than ‘demanding a review’ then doing bugger all about promoting it; as several large PR Companies and Labels have done recently! Grrrrrr don’t get me started…..
Back to Junior Johnson…….
For a self-confessed ‘jobbing musician,’ although one who counts Shane McGowan and Henry McCullough as friends after supporting them on stage, the disc is exceptionally well packaged and; as is still important to me, would have caught my eye in a record shop.
The first song Kiss The Ones You Love may not be as ‘edgy’ as a lot of music I receive; but as it played through my headphones I looked across the room at Mrs. Magpie and thought “we don’t kiss as much as we should!” Junior’s song is quite complex at times; but also very easy on the ear, with some delightful guitar breaks and backing vocals that you could easily drown in.
Taking Too Long To Leave, which follows has the opening line “I haven’t got a pot to piss in/or a window to throw it out of/I’m just bumping my gums while twiddling my thumbs” now that’s an attention grabber; isn’t it? The song about a broken relationship had me holding my breath so as not to miss a word, as shimmering drums, a steel-guitar and some haunting backing vocals shadow Johnson’s sorrowful voice and sadly strummed guitar (if you can do such a thing.) Perhaps it’s just me; which I doubt; but this really does sound like ‘break-out’ song that is destined for National radio , North and South of the Irish Border and even across the Irish Sea.
The final song Born In The Wrong Time sounds like there’s a fascinating back story; but even without that knowledge Johnson cranks the volume up a little and adds some cracking electric piano from John McCullough alongside some stinging electric guitar on a nicely punchy soft-Rocker.
To some degree these three disparate songs are a fabulous showcase for a talented young man who is making a name for himself in his home market; and with only a little bit of luck hopefully someone influential will hear about him and a massive leap forward will be justified.

Released October 16th 2017
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The Young ‘Uns STRANGERS

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The Young ‘Uns
STRANGERS

Magnificent Folk Songs For Wayfaring Strangers.

Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hedges are The Young ‘Uns and, if they’re new to you they’re not unknown to crowds of folk fans. Personally, I could never get past the name but that’s my problem. This is folk with a capital F. The band have achieved considerable success since their beginnings in Stockton Folk Club, indeed, they’ve played to a packed Albert Hall in London.
Not bad for a bunch of lads from the North East. There’s more to them than just sweet harmonies. They have a stinging wit that shows through in some of their self-penned tunes as well as their between song banter on stage.
The album kicks off with A Place Called England, the only tune not written by Sean Cooney. An acapella paen to an England of long ago. There’s mention of the meadow and retail parks and the inevitable dig at the ‘rich landowner who can stay in the Virgin Isles’.
Although their publicity hints at traditional folk songs with a modern twist the album leaves you with the feeling that success, at any level, isn’t as virtuous as a life of struggle.
Ghafoor’s Bus is another acapella track. The harmonies don’t falter from track to track but I couldn’t help wonder what this particular track would sound like with an accompaniment.
It’s not all acapella, Be The Man sets out with an acoustic guitar under a solo vocal and builds into strings and horns backing. It still sounds, to these ears, like a lyric desperately hunting for a tune. Not one that you’d be whistling after the first hearing.
Carriage 12 took me several listening’s to realise it was, amongst other things, about the Thalys terrorist attack on the train in France. I guess in 20 years’ time the mix of traditional harmonies with subject matter ranging from Syrian refugees to Gay Rights will seem perfectly normal. I find it a little incongruous to mix unaccompanied voices with modern politics. It’s not the subject matter, folk has championed the underdog for as long as songs were being recorded in Sussex.
Dark Water feels like another song in need of a more memorable tune. They’re backed by more young musicians, this time from Aldeburgh.
Bound to be a hit with the folk crowd.

Courtesy Guest Reviewer Tony Pearce

Released 29th September 2017
http://www.theyounguns.co.uk/

Paul McClure and The Local Heroes – SIDE 1

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Paul McClure and The Local Heroes
SIDE 1
Clubhouse/Rutland Troubadour Records

Britain’s Best Kept Secret Breaks For The Border.

Although on one of my favourite ‘Boutique Record Labels’ Paul is actually a ‘follower’ of our little website and took the time to send this EP, normally only sold at gigs directly with a handwritten note (always a nice touch).
So, out of courtesy I gave it a play in the car; and there it has remained for the last few weeks until he got in touch asking ‘my thoughts’……Bloody Hell! I was enjoying it so much I’d forgot that I was meant to be reviewing it!!!!
An acoustic guitar, tinkling piano, soft drumming and a crunchy harmonica solo open the disc on Million Dollar Smile. McClure really does know my tastes as this world weary love story sung by a world weary voice is right up my street; and ‘that’ harmonica playing…….mmmm mmmm mmm.
This followed by Baby That’s You, a gentle foot stomping Folk-Rocker, that’s just perfect for the intimate setting of a pub back room or even a huge Arena stage with strobe lights and a Gospel Choir; and you can’t say that about many songs, can you?
We will come back to track #3 later; as Weight In Time sounds timeless and must surely come from Laurel Canyon as opposed to Britain’s smallest County, tucked away in Middle England, mustn’t it? Nope, this is the type of singer-songwriter Folk that transcends boundaries as it touches hearts across the oceans (should it be given the chance.)
The all too short EP closes with the introspective and nearly brilliant Troubadours Lament. I’m a sucker for ‘Road Songs’ and this is up there with I See Hawks in LA ‘We Could Be In Laughlin’ in our office. Written while stuck in traffic while listening to CD’s and missing home, McClure captures the magic of music and the mind numbing dullness of travel in equal measures; and I’m sure the ‘secret 20 other verses’ will eventually make an appearance when played live and become something of a Classic…..it already is at RMHQ.
OK….back to track #3……….phew; The Good and Bad of It is a slow ballad written and sung from the pits of Paul McClure’s heart and soul. If you thought his voice sounded ‘world weary’ earlier; here he sounds like he’s fighting back the tears as a gently strummed bass and guitar accompany some delightful piano playing on a genuine heartbreaker for grown-ups.
OK, the simple orange CD cover won’t really catch your attention, but this about the music and Paul McClure isn’t the type of act that Jools Holland or The Guardian will promote this early, you and I will……buy this EP, then tell a friend who will tell a friend….then this time next year Jools may take notice; but you and I will give a knowing wink the next day at work when young girls are swooning over that dishy new singer they saw on on the telly last night.

Released 01 March 2017.

http://www.paulmccluremusic.com/

Old Salt Union – OLD SALT UNION

old salt union

Old Salt Union
OLD SALT UNION
Compass Records

It’s Bluegrass Jim; But Not As We Know It.

Any band that features a horticulturist, a hip-hop producer and a relative of Son Volts Jay Farrar has to be worth a listen, hasn’t it?. The audience for a show at one of the Bluegrass nights at The Ryman theatre in Nashville in June certainly thought so, as they packed the street and area outside the front of the venue for a good hour before going inside to see Old Salt Union, who feature some classically trained musicians but it was the special arrangements of their original tunes and sheer energy that kept the audience on the pavement on that sultry summer night in June.

This album features some of the tunes that have been building audiences across festivals and shows like Bluegrass underground, Freshgrass and Yonder Mountains Harvest Festival. To describe them as Bluegrass misses the point. They aren’t Newgrass, Psycograss, Old Timey or even Folk. There are elements of each of those styles in their playing from the out and out bluegrassy Where I Stand (with memorable harmonies under the melody) to the surprise cover of “You Can Call Me Al”, the Paul Simon tune.

They won’t be the first string band to deliver a creditable cover of Paul Simon; but this one is pretty special indeed. Greensky Bluegrass have featured Gumboots, among many covers in and out of their sets for a good while now,

Old Salt Union’s version is no bad thing. The band have a traditional set up of fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, guitar and banjo. if you want to see their real bluegrass heritage checkout their version of ‘Whiskey Before Breakfast’ on You Tube.

They deliver a masterful ballad in “Bought and Sold” and it’s this restraint that shows off the real talent in the band.

The albums one instrumental, “Flat Baroque”, features some fine twin mandolin too,  and to quote Alison Brown “While they may look like a bluegrass band, their musical sensibilities run much deeper and broader, borrowing as much from indie rock and jazz fusion as from Bill Monroe” And, lets be fair, Alison Brown knows a thing or two.

Courtesy Special Reviewer Tony Pearce.

Released August 4th 2017

https://www.oldsaltunion.com/

John Murry – A Short History of Decay

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John Murry
A Short History of Decay
TV RECORDS

John Murry got a lot of mileage out of his last album by playing the ex-junkie card, doing his damnedest to ruin his life, with that hint of a hope for redemption thrown in for good measure. It’s the same thing this time around, but at least he’s sincere about it. For me what makes him significant is more his unwillingness to compromise, his fearless drive, his talent for writing the kind of songs that make you think and feel at the same time. He delivers emotional performances that are rooted in realness, not fake histrionics masquerading as “emotive performance.” He takes chances. He doesn’t do anything unless he’s 100% into it. John Murry is a bit of a throwback and I mean that in a good way. His latest album, A Short History of Decay, isn’t as majestic, nor as noisy as Murry’s previous album, The Graceless Age, but is consistent throughout with a deep, dark throb and has a more pronounced dark country-western bent to the music. Murry is still writing with his heart—and often his gut—on his sleeve.

“Silver or Lead” starts out the album with understated guitar and a disjointed rhythm. Murry’s voice is all low growl and hopelessness. “Under a Darker Moon” is the closest we get to pop on this album, albeit Murry’s version of shattered pop with over-squeezed guitar and actually humorous lyrics as if Murry is openly mocking his own back story. The beautiful piano line on “Miss Magdalene” contrasted with the sizzling organ is a gorgeous counterpoint that needs no words to get its point across. The strongest tracks are where Murry’s sound and fury can barely be contained. Timidness, nor understatement aren’t his strong suits, but he does his best with them. “Defacing Sunday Bulletins” is a glorious, rolling noise-fest. Shattered cymbals and relentless, knife slice guitars. “Wrong Man” sounds like a lost Springsteen song from the Nebraska era, but with more contempt and acid. Murry’s previous, The Graceless Age, ended with a cover of “Thorn Tree in the Garden” by Bobby Whitlock and Murry keeps things consistent this time around by ending with a cover of the Afghan Whigs “What Jail is Like.” Murry has an ear for picking covers that work well with his other material, this one would even work on The Graceless Age, as it matches the sentiments on that album very nicely. And for a cover, this one song seems more personal and affords a deeper intimacy to the listener than the rest of the album, such is Murry’s power as a performer to bring out the smallest detail of a song and wring it full of personal meaning.

The choice of producer here, Michael Timmins, of the Cowboy Junkies, may seem at odds to Murry’s revved up dark soul searchings and primal therapy performances and, yeah, they kind of are. Murry’s darknesses are a fuzzy lot and require shadows from which to reveal themselves. A number of critics are praising the darkness and turmoil on this album, yet in my opinion, it pales considerably in comparison to Murry’s earlier output. He’s somewhat sleepwalking through this one, as if he’s too numb to do anything but feel his way down the hall with eyes shut, afraid to fall, where on The Graceless Age the entire album was like a headlong leap off a cliff and who cares or knows what’s at the bottom, but let’s find out. And if you want dark, it doesn’t get any darker than 2006’s World Without End, an entire album of true life murder ballads which Murry recorded with songwriter Bob Frank. THAT album can induce nightmares aplenty. And listen, if you’re brave enough, to “The Murder of Dylan Hartsfeld” from Murry’s earlier EP, Califorlornia, which is eight gruelling minutes of a terrible story made all the more sadder and darker when you find out it’s a TRUE story. Murry knows how to dance with demons, often giving them their due and keeping them on the run. He’s on the trail of hellhounds, and shows no fear. Or at least he can when he wants to. So yeah, I’m a little torn on this one. A lot of good, a lot of “could have been better.” This is still a good album, Murry is still a talented songwriter and riveting performer, but I’m still holding out for the next one.

Review Courtesy Guest Reviewer Roy Peak esq.

Released July 24th 2017
http://www.johnmurry.com

Slaid Cleaves – GHOSTS ON THE CAR RADIO

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Slaid Cleaves
GHOSTS ON THE CAR RADIO
Candy House Media/Proper Records

The Voice of the Working Man Distilled Through Some Beautiful Songs.

Where does the time go? It only seems like the blink of an eye since I first heard Slaid Cleaves singing Horseshoe Lounge on the More Sounds of the New West CD that was given away with Uncut magazine in January 2001 and proved a gateway into Americana music for me. That gorgeous world weary voice that I know every nuance of now returns with his 13th (?) album in nearly 27 years.
As the owner of 11 of those discs it was with more than a little bit of nervous excitement that I slid the disc into the player. I waited with baited breath and was pleasantly surprised to hear him fronting a band on Already Gone; a bit of an intense Alt. Country rocker that brought back happy memories of some of his earlier albums.
Always an advocate of other songwriters Slaid first introduced us to the works of Karen Poston many years ago and here her Little Guys fits in perfectly well as Slaid recounts the sad story of a guy called Butch who was ‘pumping gas in first grade’ and could ‘rebuild a carburetor by the time he was 12 years old’ in the family auto-service centre and now 40 years later he has inherited the business just as the corporations and complicated regulations have taken over and he has to consider giving it all up. A story that I hear over and over again these days; but the way Slaid inhabits the character left me with a funny feeling in my stomach and a tear in my eye.
While a mighty fine songwriter himself; Cleaves includes four songs from his best friend since school days; Rod Picott.
One of which, the single Drunken Barbers Hand is a whole new direction for both and includes some ghostly harmonies and impressive guitar interludes from producer Scrappy Judd Newcomb while Slaid pores his heart out in the vocal department.
Another from Picott’s pen, Take Home Pay explores a blue collar workers struggles to make ends for his family; and even considers ‘going to the blood bank’ or ‘selling pills to red-eye truckers’ in a song that really captures the current mood across the world.
It’s not just Cleaves’ expressive way with words that I love; but the subject matter in songs like the beautiful To Be Held and Hickory that make him a Master-craftsman in this dark art.
As an unadulterated fan; there’s nothing here I don’t like and didn’t expect any other outcome; but if you don’t already know his work try listening to Primer Gray; an age old story of a man following in his own fathers footsteps by inheriting a Pontiac ’74 that his own son doesn’t want. Heartbreaking and beautiful in equal measures.
The title of ‘favourite song’ is a difficult one as two songs tugged at my heart strings for different reasons. The first, If I Had a Heart harks back to some of my favourite sorrowful songs from his earlier works and includes the line “If I had a heart/You’d be breaking it now.” Wow……how insightful is that? Then play out the song to a moving backing band and you have a song that is totally unforgettable.
The other; is a jaunty slice of old-timey Country with Slaid singing about The Old Guard who hang out at Dickies Bar, playing George and Hank on the Jukebox talking about Sports and the weather; until the kids play ‘their fast modern tunes/as the floors bounce.’ Slaid’s voice has never sounded better, in my humble opinion on a song that will surely feature on any upcoming Best Of album and of course his concerts and will have fans of all ages smiling and nodding along in agreement.
Part of me wants to say that this is ‘much of a muchness’ with Slaid Cleave’s previous albums; and to some degree it is; but the more I play it the more that Newcomb’s warm production releases and reveals, and leaves me feeling that there is even better to come over the next few years.

Released June 23rd 2017
https://www.slaidcleaves.com/

EXCLUSIVE Tine Refnes MAN OF THIS HOUSE (Single)

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Tine Refnes
MAN OF THIS HOUSE (Single)

This week just gets better and better. I’ve been inundated with some great new albums from artists we love and adore here at RMHQ then this morning I’ve just received this stunning new single from our favourite Norwegian, Tina Refnes.
It’s a pre-cursor to her new album (coming real soon) and if it’s anything like her debut NO ONE KNOWS YOU ARE LOST (2015) we will be very happy bunnies around these here parts.

MAN OF THIS HOUSE; a collaboration with fellow Oslo musicians, is a playful and gorgeous soundscape of a song, and demonstrates the unique qualities of her strong, narrative voice.

Released Friday 5th May 2017.
http://www.tinarefsnes.com/

 

Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough -Mockingbird Soul

brigitte-and-will

Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough
Mockingbird Soul
BDM Music

Luscious and Lyrical Genre Defying Roots Music.

‘Roots Music’ is a bit of a loose term these days; covering everything from traditional Irish Folk through to Chicago Blues and every niche in-between; but because this charming couple throw in a little bit of everything into their musical melting-pot; it’s the only way I can describe it.
I loved Brigitte’s 2014 album Savannah Road and excitedly went to see her in concert later that year; only to find the legendary Will Kimbrough alongside her on guitar.
Sadly (in my opinion) the audience only appeared to want to hear Kimbrough’s impressive playing so, alongside a hyper-chatty bass player, Ms DeMeyer got a bit over shadowed that night.
But, when she took the lead, the heady combination of her smoky voice on Will’s sublime picking was was mind-blowing and was surely destined to be recorded.
So, a mere 3 years later the duo have finally recorded a disc under their dual names.
Will Kimbrough’s distinctive picking opens the first track, before the couple’s honey flavoured voices harmonise on a delightful song that combines 70’s Folk with timeless Southern acoustic Country.
Will and Brigitte play around with genres all through the next hour, with The Juke being a sultry Southern Country Blues featuring some sizzling harmonica; and Little Easy being exactly what the title suggests with the couple treading lightly into Gram and Emmylou territory.
Apart from adding harmonies and exquisite guitar flourishes throughout the album Kimbrough also gets his moment in the vocal spotlight with the glorious Broken Fences, with it’s deep lyrics and Alt. Country undertones.
But, it’s a personal thing;I just love Brigitte’s voice, which is a ‘one-off’ and when Will harmonises on Until Then my legs went weak at the knees, and on the sassy Honey Bee she sounds like a countryfied Dusty Springfield.
In these days when you don’t need an actual single to promote an album, two songs still stand out from a rarefied bunch; the title track Mockingbird Soul with Kimbrough sending shivers down my back with his slide guitar; Brigitte has never sounded better as she takes us on a beautiful stroll down a Savannah Road.
The other is I Can Hear Your Voice, where Kimbrough takes the lead; but this beautiful song is more about the delectable harmonies that come dripping honeyed notes as they ooze from the speakers.
All of the songs here are, all bar two written by the duo, with the dour Carpet Baggers Lullaby being a co-write between Brigitte and Oliver Wood and all are incredibly well executed, intelligent and quite atmospheric.
The finale is an interesting and quite oblique choice…..but this adaptation of the Incredible String Band’s October Song actually fits in perfectly.
I can’t say much more without sounding ‘gushing’ but the wait has certainly been worth it as this album is every inch as good as I’d hoped three years ago.

Released January 27th 2017

http://brigittedemeyer.com/

http://willkimbrough.com/