COTTON FIELDS & BLOOD FOR DAYS
Skate Mountain Records
Southern Gothic Alt.Country-Folk Fights Punk at Midnight Behind a Dingy Bar.
Every now and again an album comes along that absolutely blows me away and I can’t wait to share it with you out there in Internetland…….and this album from Alabama singer-songwriter Abe Partridge is one such.
COTTON FIELDS & BLOOD FOR DAYS arrived a few weeks before Christmas when I knew I didn’t have much time for even listening to music never mind writing about it; but when I saw the intriguing song titles I listened a couple of times late at night when I was doing my ironing; and then more recently at the crack of dawn while driving to work; and the sense of loneliness those hours create is just perfect for diving in at the deep end with Partridges rough and ready and deeply personal songs.
It was the stark opening track Colors that initially caught my attention; with Partridge sounding like a prodigy of Townes, Guy and Rodney the way his lyrics poetically twist and turn via a grizzled and lived in voice over a jagged acoustic guitar and a cello or violin.
It was only on the third time I listened to track #2 Ride Willie, Ride that I actually realised that it was a love song from a songwriter to Willie Nelson; and the actual title is Ride Willie Ride (Or Thoughts I Had While Contemplating Both the Metaphysical Nature of Willie Nelson and His Harassment By The Internal Revenue Service) and boy; is the world a better place for this song being in it!
Just as I thought I had a handle on where Partridge was coming from track #3 I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker turned everything upside down. Who among us can resist a dirty electric guitar intro followed by the opening lines “Put on my black steel toes/and my free jacket from Goodwill/Gonna get me some dark sunglasses just like Dylan used to wear/ gonna go to my barber and tell him/won’t you do me the wildest of hair’? That’s not even the best bit; but I will leave you intrigued enough to buy the album and hear it yourself.
Like the very best of his ilk Partridge is no ‘one trick pony’ as that last song proves; but it’s his haunting acoustic ballads about his home town Out of Alabama Blues and The Ghosts of Mobile that make him stand out from his contempories and peers; and not just because he sounds like every single word comes from the darkest recesses of his worn out heart.
Choosing a favourite here hasn’t been easy; even before I actually heard it I hoped Our Babies Will Never Grow Up To Be Astronauts would live up to the title; and it does with ease; and it was a similar gut wrenching feeling I had with Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down; and hearing him channel his inner RL Burnside had me slapping the steering wheel with delight when I heard it that first cold morning.
But; and it’s eventually become an easy choice; Prison Tattoos is even better than I’d ever dared hope for from reading the title on the sleeve. This could easily be a lost Townes Van Zandt or Jim White song remixed by Nick Cave as the layers of choppy electric guitars and piano are played without the aid of a safety net as Partridge’s grizzled and Demonic voice purr out a delightfully dark tale.
WOW…….I love my job on days I discover diamonds like Abe Partridge; and you are welcome to fall in love with him too; there’s plenty here for everyone.
Released January 26th 2018
A GOOD OLD FASHIONED PROTEST
Timeless and Contemporary Songs of Protest and Hope.
We here at RMHQ loved Texan Keegan McInroe’s 2016 album UNCOUTH PILGRIMS and even though the songwriter himself liked our prose our review doesn’t get a mention on the latest Press Release (surprise, surprise!).
Hey, ho onwards and upwards; the actual title A GOOD OLD FASHIONED PROTEST didn’t just catch my attention; but made me growl, “At last!” through clenched teeth, as apart from a good few individual songs it’s not since we told the world about the Quiet Loner’s 2013 album Greedy Magicians that we have actually heard a complete album of such forceful and direct ‘political protest songs’ and these 9 tracks are just as eloquent and indispensable.
Opening track Talking Talking Head Blues; took me back to the first time I heard the Compleat Tom Paxton in 1971 as Keegan spits out a list of all the things that annoy him about current political life (with and without a capital P) and I found myself smiling and nodding with just about every line.
I just wish I’d listened to this record a month or so ago as Christmas 1914 is a beautiful and delicate song about that Christmas Day which has gone down in history when soldiers sang hymns together and swapped photos and cigarettes; as McInroe takes the role of a soldier who realises that these men and boys in grey uniforms aren’t really his enemy at all; but return to the trenches and the war carries on regardless. Have we not learnt anything in 100 years? #SIGH
Bastards and Bitches shouldn’t be something that I would enjoy; but the 60 seconds go by in the blink of an eye; and I had to repeat the song 5 times to catch every word as the singer recites his ‘poem’ at 100mph.
Nietzsche Wore Boots is a different type of poem; think of McInroe as a 60’s Beat Poet with a belly full of fire and brimstone using the German Philosopher as a modern day Moses. It’s certainly different; but impressive in it’s own way; as is Bombing For Peace; which has a ‘Parental Guidance’ note attached; but sometimes profanity really is the only way to get your message across and when Keegan sings “Bombing for Peace is like F*cking for Virginity’ you get the message loud and clear…..and he’s right of course .
Don’t worry; there are still plenty of contemporary Alt. Folk songs to get your heard around with Big Old River being ‘radio friendly’ until you unravel McInroe’s bitter lyrics; and then you will find yourself punching the air with unbridled joy that someone out there ‘gets it.’ The Ballad of Little Timmy Johnson is a jaunty little tune that is meant to lull you into a false sense of security; but again McInroe’s caustic lyrics will leave you breathless.
The beautiful yet bittersweet The Love That We Give is easily our favourite song here; a simple melody and a weary voice that bleeds passion on a timeless Folk song that has elements of Dylan, Paxton, Cohen et al in it; but is 100% 21st Century troubadour Keegan McInroe at heart.
Now; I also have one huge complaint here; and many of my local readers will stand by me in my righteous indignation ……what else was I to expect when I saw a song entitled Keegan’s Beautiful Dream? My heart skipped a beat as I expected this American singer-songwriter to extol the virtues of Newcastle United’s greatest ever Manager? Ha! Nope; young Mr. McInroe actually uses his own Christian name as part of another wonderful and timeless protest song that needs to be heard by his and your peers on a daily basis.
What a great way to start the new year; 9 highly articulate Protest songs and poems about the need to stop wars of all ilks and persuasions around the globe.
Released UK & Europe January 12th 2018
Released USA April 2017
Cambridge City Roots Festival 2018
Feb 22nd- March 6th 2018.
WAHAY! How exciting does this look to start 2018? The World Famous Cambridge Folk Festival now has an exciting little brother of a Festival to whet the musical appetite and it just gets better, more exciting and….dare I say it, more interesting every year.
Just some of what’s in store includes performances from BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris’s ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ Wildwood Kin, RMHQ ‘Hero’ and BBC Radio 6 stalwart Mr. Tom Robinson and Cambridge Folk Festival summer headliner, Ward Thomas. Some of the UK’s finest folk musicians appear in the form of John McCusker, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, and Megson. Elsewhere there will be award-winning comedy from Rich Hall as he performs “Hoedown” – a withering dissection of Trump’s America which finishes as a celebration of Americana with stand-up, improvised ballads, and amazing musicianship (described as “Blissfully funny” by The Guardian) – as well as what promises to be a fascinating live interview, with charismatic Canvey Island rocker Wilko Johnson. Further headliners also include Gambian multi-instrumentalist Sona Jobarteh with Cameroonian blues and jazz artist Muntu Valdo.
RMHQ says “What’s not to like?”
RIFLES & ROSARY BEADS
Proper Records/Thirty Tigers
Dangerous, Timeless and Poetically Beautiful Songs of Struggling After War.
Only a couple of months ago I was chatting to a friend and we got to pondering about Mary Gauthier and wondered when she would be releasing a new album; and a week later what should pop through the RMHQ letterbox but this…..the quaintly titled RIFLES & ROSAY BEADS.
As I took the disc from the packaging I raised my eyebrows on seeing the enigmatic artwork on the cover; and ‘that’ title. Knowing Mary’s work of old and coupled to the album cover I immediately knew this wasn’t going to contain many laughs……and nor would it be intended too.
The opening track Soldiering On is breathtaking the first time you hear it. As with the other ten songs here this is a co-write with someone from a non-profit programme called Songwriting With Soldiers; and the rawness of the lyrics and the powerfully dark production tells a story that a simple singer-songwriter could never begin to articulate.
Track #3 The War After The War treads similar territory to Slaid Cleaves recent album but here the tale of a proud Soldier returning to his home fractured on the inside will send a shiver down your spine and make you feel very proud at the way this young person (their sex isn’t made clear; and nor should it matter) keeps ‘fighting’ to get back to some sort of normality.
Okay; Mary Gauthier has had a hand in editing and no doubt even writing all of these songs; but when you listen intently you hear an eloquence that far surpasses many of the albums I receive on a weekly basis; ‘write about what you know’ springs to mind and when I listen to the starkly delicate It’s Her Love and Brothers you wouldn’t wish ‘what they saw and know’ on your worst enemy; but it makes for two amazing songs that should be heard by every politician in the world on a daily basis.
The poetic title track RIFLES & ROSARY BEADS encompasses the full scale irony that these young people have encountered on a daily basis from the day they chose to ‘sign-up’ through to now when all they have is memories ……and memories that they can’t shake off no matter how hard they or the Doctors try.
Finding a ‘favourite song’ isn’t easy at all; as every single song here is here on merit and tells a story that simply must be heard; and no single story is more worthy than any other but I will point you towards two that brought tears to my eyes more than once over the last couple of weeks.
Bullet Holes in The Sky is a timeless story that will resonate with Vietnam and Korean War veterans as much as it will with the young men and women who are in and leaving the military in 2018. Bittersweet hardly describes the mixed feelings of pride and horror at what these people have seen and done ‘for the greater good.’
The other…..phew……Iraq……certainly isn’t what the ‘great and the good want you to hear’ when they touch their hearts while looking wistfully at the Flag. Mary takes on the role and words of a young woman whose ‘enemy wasn’t Iraq’ but her fellow military mechanics who sexually harass her and eventually take her to the brink. Sadly this is a story that will resonate with women of all persuasions and professions; but is all too common in the various military institutions around the world.
While as far from Gung-Ho as you can get; Stronger Together which closes this remarkable album manages to be a song of hope and love written from the perspective of the soldiers, sailors and airmen’s families who have to battle on alongside and sometimes despite the people they love.
Every song here tells a real story; and none of them come from the John Wayne School of heroics; these are real people recounting real experiences and real memories with the guidance of one of America’s premier songwriters and the results are truly staggering and beautiful in equal measure.
I doubt you will ever hear any of these songs on public radio or even read a review of the album in National magazines or newspapers; such is the strong sentiment in each individual work; but trust me……..this is an album every single person in Western Civilisation should hear at least once…..then send a copy to your politicians who keep War Mongering then sitting behind their big oak desks and counting their profits while the combatants come home and Fight The War After The War.
Released January 26th 2018
The Wailin’ Jennys
True North Records/Redhouse Records
Simple Folk Music At It’s Most Complex and Most Beautiful.
Where o’ where does the time go? It doesn’t seem five minutes since Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse aka The Wailin’ Jennys were never away from the UK; playing to ever increasing audiences that were awe struck at their combined wonderfulness.
Yet it’s now six years and assorted babies since their last album BRIGHT MORNING STAR….six years!
Even now the trio haven’t really got the time to devote to writing a whole new album so when the opportunity to gather together to record ‘something’ arose they put their heads together and came up with these marvelous nine songs; that they all loved in equal measure.
Perhaps an odd choice to open the record with; their haunting acapella treatment of the Old Churchyard is simply breathtaking; and sets the tone perfectly for what is to follow.
This is followed by a delicious old folk song called Wildflowers which captures the Wailin’ Jennys at their absolute best.
HANG ON A MINUTE!
‘An old Folk Song?’
No actually; it’s a revisiting of the classic Tom Petty song actually, but not that you would know it from this stripped back raw and emotional rendition that finds their voices harmonising and soaring in the most Angelic fashion.
As usual in these circumstances there will be readers who tsk at my ignorance at finding that I’d never heard Hank William’s Weary Blues From Waitin’; but after hearing the Jenny’s almost Spiritual version; I’m not sure I even want to hear the original!
It’s fair to say that Nicky, Ruth and Heather have shown great taste when selecting these songs with Classics like Boulder to Birmingham and Dolly Parton’s Light of a Clear Blue Morning rubbing shoulders with Warren Zevon’s starkly beautiful Keep Me In Your Heart and a personal favourite from Patty Griffin…..Not Alone.
Two songs tie for the accolade of ‘favourite track’ the stunningly beautiful Jane Siberry song The Valley; which sends a shiver down my spine every time I hear it and….. and this is the oddest selection here…..but one that made my jaw drop the first time I heard it.
Simon & Garfunkel* both solo and together have been a bedrock of my musical education since the early 1970’s; so hearing The Wailin’ Jennys deconstruct Paul Simon’s Love Me Like a Rock has genuinely mesmerised me for a whole week now and I’m pretty damn sure it will continue to do so for years to come.
That’s the intrinsic beauty of this album; each disparate song is famous in it’s own rite and in normal settings wouldn’t and shouldn’t fit together, but due to the trio’s very own magical production values and arrangements they become very much Wailin’ Jennys songs; therefore making the album sounds intrinsically perfect from start to finish.
Released USA & Canada October 27th 2017
Released UK January 5th 2018
*Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel was the very first record I ever heard using the stereo format!
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.
The Raving Beauties
RAVING FOR BAP (KENNEDY)
A Special Way To Celebrate a Wonderful Life at Christmas.
Phew…..I don’t really know where to begin here; where does the time go? It’s now over a year since Belfast Boy Bap Kennedy died and his passing still feels as raw to me as it must his family.
Here, Bap’s friends and family have combined to record 5 of his finest songs that span his career way back to the Energy Orchard days with all proceeds (coupled with the £2,000 his lovely sister Marian has raised by a 12 month long sponsored abstinence from the demon alcohol!) going to the Marie Curie (NI) who looked after ‘yer man’ in those horrible last few months.
Normally at this stage I should actually review all 5 songs on this delightful record; but apart from telling you they are all delightful and come oozing with love for Bap; what’s the point? You are going to buy this anyways; aren’t you?
1) Walk In Love
2) Moriarty’s Blues
3) The Way I Love Her
4) Hard Street
5) Lonesome Lullaby
Oh…..I’m not even giving you a free sampler as this cause is so important I want you to give hard cash to hear this beautiful tribute. Trust me, it’s worth it.
The release comes via a digital download or a collectors edition 10″ vinyl (which I DO NOT WANT TO SEE ON E-BAY!).
Download (£5 or €5?)
PS All of Bap’s wonderful musical legacy is also still available to buy (and give as Xmas presents)
A Different Thread
HIGH TIME EP
Quintessential English Folk But With an Appalachian Heartbeat.
Yet again this is a release that has been sitting in the to-do queue for a few weeks and was brought to my attention via the ‘random button’ on my i-phone.
Thankfully that track wasn’t the actual first one on the CD, Banjo Tune because; and not for the first time……I’m currently suffering from ‘Banjo Fatigue’! With Americana music currently ‘on trend’ I receive a few albums that appear to be either Folk or even Rock; with a banjo welded onto the recording to give it ‘authenticity’ which doesn’t do my ears any favours.
While the banjo does feature strongly on the song of the same name; mercifully singer Robert Jackson’s richly distinctive voice carries a rather sweet song along a path normally trodden by one of my heroes Tom Paxton.
Very much on the Appalachian Folk end of the Americana Spectrum A Different Thread deliver a series of lovely and warm songs like Cherry Tree and Long In The Tooth which belies the trio’s distinctly Middle England roots.
With only 5 songs on this EP those previous three are each delightful in their own ways; but the other two songs stand out like poppies in a field of corn.
The first, High Time made me smile as soon as I saw the title because it’s the same as a favourite song in my teens by Detroit proto-punks The MC5; but this song is 359 degrees away from tat madness.
A gorgeously crafted and written song features some darkly melancholic cello by Isaac Collier and intricate guitar playing by Jackson himself while Alicia Best’s subtle fiddle playing will break the hardest of hearts.
Then it behoves me to say that they have kept the best until last; with the bittersweet love song Sweet Elizabeth. Like a fine red wine, it conjures up the heady flavours of Led Zeppelin and even the Allman Brothers (without the electric guitars or drums) as well as the rich aroma of Richard Thomson and my personal favourite Bert Jansch; while very much creating their own distinctive sound.
Whether in a club, pub or even your own home this is the type of music best heard with the lights down low and your hopes set high.
released 15th September 2017.
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
You’ve Been Away So Long
Boston singer/songwriter Alice Howe’s reference points lay in 60’s folk and 70’s Southern Californian style; not just her penmanship but also in her approach to her songs. Part Joan Baez and part Joni Mitchell (Blue period).
This 5 track EP showcases her wistful style with some fine songs. The title track You’ve Been Away So Long, as you might imagine, is a call to her ‘darling, who’s been away so long’. She avoids the obvious clichés of comparing a missed loved one with missed birthdays, summers alone or long walks alone and instead, talks of the shores and, mountains and how the trees have grown since her loved one has been gone. Special mention at this point goes to Jeff Fielder who is handling practically everything that is either plucked or strummed.
Homeland Blues is the track that is getting plenty of airplay at the moment; with that man Jeff Fielder providing some tasteful Dobro that supports Alice Howes finger-style acoustic playing. It’s a twist on the old “Woke up this morning, Grandmama had them too,” it’s a familiar story of someone looking forward to the day that they can book their ticket home, but with no mention of the person she’s singing to going with her. Are they coming with? Is it a single trip? The press release will tell you it’s a driving, fingerpicked blues, but it’s not. It’s a delightful variation on a straightforward 12 bar and all the better for it.
On Make A Fool Out Of Me Hard it’s hard not to warm to the opening lines “When you hit your stride on a Monday night at a half empty bar downtown”. It’s a gentle country waltz about arriving in the Hollywood hills with no prospects and no promises. It’s possibly this track that we best hear Jeff Fielders 1920 Gibson L-1 archtop providing the sweet picked lines, supporting and not intruding on the tale of lessons learned and experienced gained.
Courtesy or Guest Reviewer TONY PEARCE
Released 21 August 2017