Music? Doncha just love it? It can make “you laugh, sing, dance and just about any old thing” to paraphrase Rod and the Faces; but someone somewhere hundreds of miles away from you can also have the ability to tap into your rawest emotions and make you realise that you aren’t ‘alone’ after all. Over the last few days I’ve been corresponding with Vicky Martin from the Delta Ladies who was politely asking if we/I would give her band’s latest release a listen, and gave me a bit of background. Nothing odd in that, as we get offered review albums every day … 24/7 yet nothing prepared me for the haunting/passionate/cracked opening track Thieving Boy! Technically and in spirit, it’s Folk Music……. but Folk Music like I’ve never heard before! I’m not doing it any justice if I say it’s two fiddles (one acoustic and one electric) plus a keyboard and Vicky Martin’s warmly mystifying vocals on a song that will eventually unravel in a way I doubt I’d ever expected. This is followed by a 46 second banjo instrumental lament, called Redcar Steel Blues that I wanted to last an hour. Yes, you read that correctly…… BANJO INSTRUMENTAL, but Delta Ladies say more in that short time than feted journalists have managed for years about the death of the steel industry in the North East. This duo? trio? band? ensemble? (and their friends) are so smart and clever they even include two versions of the same song (others tempos are also available), Rock of Ages and although they share the same words are polar opposites! The first version is Gospelish in essence with some staggering violin playing and a harmonica that will set your hair on end; and the second is a ‘Trance’ version which is bizarre to the Max; yet totally captivating; especially when heard on headphones. Even when Delta Ladies go wandering off into Hippyland on Seventh Day Blues they kept my interest such is their mesmeric way with a tune and a random set of acoustic instruments. The nearest to a ‘Commercial’ track here Devil’s Work Today, is a twist on the ‘Crossroads’ theme with some very modern and scary lyrics. The title of RMHQ Favourite Track has been a tussle between the fabulously sloppy Blues Jam Praise The Lord and the 11 minute epic Hear Me Calling which closes the record; and I’m probably plumping for the latter as it meanders and twists and turns like a river, occasionally rolling along but always with a sense of fear and menace in the background. By far and away this album isn’t for everyone (I’m hiding it from Mrs. Magpie, that’s for sure!) but for those of us who adore challenging music that doesn’t follow the straight and narrow path it will never be far away when we need a dose of beautiful misery. Cleverly mixing traditional Folk Music with hints of Rootsy American and snippets of World Music as the whims suit them, this ever expanding trio from the *Norf Landin Delta take us on a tour of the darkest recesses of our broken hearts and tortured souls, but leave us feeling thoroughly cleansed and more peaceful as the last notes fade away.
#This will mean nothing to 99% of you; but the band that instantly sprung to mind when I first played this was String Driven Thing, a Folk Rock band from Glasgow who flirted around the outskirts of Prog in the 1970’s and whom I fell head over heels with; and still adore 40 years later.
Serious Sam Barrett Where The White Roses Grow Ya Dig? Records
Americana Influenced Folk Music; Made In Yorkshire.
In theory I’m averse to this type of Traditional English, or in this particular case ‘Yorkshire’ Folk Music. (Did Sam mention he was from Yorkshire? He hardly ever mentions it.) But, Sam has been a regular visitor to the Jumpin’ Hot Club in Newcastle over the years and has somehow won me over to his distinctive and, it’s fair to say, evocative singing style. Sam’s first actual Solo album in three years opens with some sparkling banjo playing on the Americana flavoured title track Where The White Roses Grow, which owes more to the Hills of Kentucky than it does his normal hills and Dales of Yorkshire, which are the setting for many of his songs. Funnily enough that Americana flavour runs through Sam’s tale of the legendary Robin Hood in the Last of The Yorkshire Outlaws, and Sam’s lightning fast guitar picking really comes to the fore on this track too. The man most normally associated with Nottingham, makes another appearance; as does Barrett’s distinctive guitar picking style on the traditional Folk Song, Robin Hood & The 15 Foresters, which is sung with great passion and zeal too. Our Man from Addingham treads the a’cappella tightrope for the first time on record with the rather beautiful Holmfirth Anthem, which he learnt note for note from a Watersons LP many years ago and then closing the record with the plaintiff Darling Where You Are too . He picks up his guitar again for a song I myself learnt at Junior School half a century ago; and apart from a version by local legend George Welch I can’t think of anyone who has made Waters of The Tyne sound so evocative as when Sam Barrett sings in such a mournful manner. I suppose there are surprises around every corner here; especially the Bonaparte’s Love Song and Tennessee Line which both show how gifted Barrett is on a variety of acoustic instruments, and how his many visits to the US of A are now influencing his songwriting. A big part of me wanted to choose that local Folk Song as my favourite here, but in all honesty the powerful story of the Bramhope Tunnel Monument, is not just an absorbing history lesson but the type of crossover Folk song that leaves you quite speechless. Plus, Bramhope is an area I’ve visited many times and vaguely knew of this harrowing tale of how men’s lives where held in such little regard in the middle 19th Century. Possibly because of the Rootsy Americana edge to many of the intrinsically English Folk songs here, Where The White Roses Grow has meant I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this album and now I’m excited about seeing him on his tour to support this special release.
Danny Lynn Wilson Peace of Mind SwingNation Records
The Roots Swamp Has Turned Up Another Classy Singer-Songwriter.
Santa has only just been and there are still chocolates and mince pies to be eaten, yet here I am typing out my first review of 2019; because the reviewing world never stops revolving, does it? Choosing the first RMHQ Album of 2019 wasn’t ever going to be easy; but the name Danny Lynn Wilson caught my attention weeks ago; primarily because the cover art is eye-catching and one of our favourite British singer-songwriters is called Danny Wilson; he of Danny & The Champions, Grand Drive and latterly Bennett, Wilson, Poole; plus the stable this arrived from has given us some cracking Blues albums over the last couple of years. Then I played first track When Will The Loving Start, with its opening lines delivered by a droll and world weary voice; “The world is no place for a man with a heart Drag you down, tear you apart Turn you ’round, turn you out” I knew immediatly I was in the presence of a very special talent indeed. This ain’t what I was expecting at all; it sure ain’t the Blues as I recognise it, but what it is is excellently crafted Roots Music with a nod of the head in the Folk with a side-turn at the Blues corner. The accompanying bio is quite vague, but it appears that this is Wilson’s fourth album in a long and lofty career playing every juke joint from Beale St. to Brooklyn via Banff, Bakersfield and Baton Rouge. All of that experience on the road comes across in every line of every song; especially the well crafted High Water and Peace of Mind; which can only have been written after a lifetime of ‘experiences’ on the road and indeed in life itself. Like the best of songwriter’s Wilson finds subject matter and metaphors in the unlikeliest of places; but when he does, as with the well crafted rockers Arkansas Trotter and Too Many Hounds he is as sharp as a razor; making me scribble down notes as I was stopped at traffic lights so as not to forget my initial feelings. Our man’s long and varied background comes to the fore on the Olde Time Swing of the cutesy love song Fuss ‘n Fight and the charming Galway Bay which closes the album in the most delightful of manners. In these days of political turbulence all over the world Danny Lynn slips in two very subtle but politically astute songs that deserve some intense listening; Sympathy For Your Man and Middle Class Blues will both touch the hearts of the working men and women like me and you that don’t know what this or next year will bring us. In some or indeed many ways this is a ‘crossover’ album as Danny Lynn Wilson seamlessly flits between several Roots styles; but never letting them jar which is why selecting my first Favourite Song of 2019 has been difficult; as both the introspective song about a dwindling love affair Shine Is Off and the heartfelt and touching Love Only You are both worthy of the title; but I will go for the former as it is somewhat of a cornerstone for the whole album; and captures the magic of Danny Lynn Wilson’s songwriting a little bit better and cleverer than the latter. Surprise, surprise…….. Roots Music in 2019 is shaping up to be every bit as good and exciting as the last three years of RMHQ have been and I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year than introduce you to Danny Lynn Wilson and his songs.
Fascinating, Intriguing and Mostly Beautiful Modern Folk Ballads.
I don’t know why but I seem to be being kept drawn towards what we now know as ‘Modern Folk Music’……. thankfully not the ‘finger in the ear’ bilge that haunted many a Folk Club of my teenage years; but more a new take on the Singer-Songwriter ilk that I actually listened to in my darkened bedroom as I tried to get my head around ‘the meaning of life’. There’s a couple of reasons I was initially drawn to this particular release; the quirky cover photo; with Rauchwerk looking like a renegade Geography teacher holding an odd looking instrument; coupled to the ‘typewriter font’ (I do get excited by a good font!) but when you look at the cover more intently, you will see it’s a Double-Exposure’ which becomes something of a metaphor for the songs contained therein. Thankfully my trusty IPhone had already let me hear a few of the latter songs; otherwise the opening Traditional Folk ballad Mrs McLaughlin may well have put me off before I got under Starters Orders; but a week later I now rather like this intense tale of a proud young man signing up to join the army to fight in some unknown war; only for his mother to take it upon herself to take umbrage and knock the ‘Sergeant to the floor’ and stop the boy going. While it at first sounds like a WW1 song; it could actually be very contemporary too…… such is the cleverness off Rauchwerk’s writing. Obviously it’s a ‘Folk Thang’ but founding member of The Lords of Liechtenstein flits between centuries and genres to tell his well written tales with consummate ease; one minute he is singing about running away to Memphis, then it’s a glorious tale of Queen Victoria then slides seamlessly into a sonnet about Carthage then with Skywalker he regales us with a loving tale of his Grandfather, who was indeed a Skywalker building those legendary buildings that fill the NYC skyline in between the wars. In many ways this is a very simple sounding album; but I know the hard work and talent it takes from all concerned to create the loveliness of Alene and the starkly haunting Tears Shaped Like Islands (featuring the delightful voice of Caitlin Mahoney) and it’s hidden stories in each verse. Then there are two very, very clever but eminently listenable and thought-provoking songs which are currently scrapping it out in my head for the title of RMHQ Favourite Track; possibly autobiographical but not necessarily literal; Modern Day Explorer which closes the album is a delightful History Lesson that ends with…… well, I won’t spoil it for you, but it is well worth seeking out. The other is a bit of an oddity; but one that made me ruefully smile as it unravelled before my very eyes in the car. It Just Is will pass many listeners by; but just like Dan Rauchwerk I too am fascinated by wandering around graveyards and cemeteries reading the headstones and wondering who they were and more pertinently, what their stories were; as we all leave a mark on this world we live in. So; I’m choosing It Just Is; partly because it’s ‘different’ but mostly because it’s a beautiful love song to people the writer never knew. Which is a nice thing to do. As I’ve said many times over the last four years; the whole purpose of this website is finding new artistes and delivering their work to your ears without you having to do any hard work; and in Dan Rauchwerk I think I’ve unearthed another musical diamond.
Released UK & Europe January 7th 2019 Released US & Canada Sept 27th 2018
I have a ‘guilty confession’ …… I think I took a dislike to Kaia’s last album NINE PINS before I’d even played it because she is sporting a banjo on the cover. I remember playing it once, but it never got reviewed…..I guess because of my Anti-Banjo racism at that particular time. I get like that with banjos. Sorry. Now that’s out of the way; let’s get back to today and young Ms Kater’s 5th, album in a fairly short recording career. Opening track New Colossus was released as a single back in October 2018, and as far as I know only got one UK play; on the groundbreaking Leader’s American Pie which is a damn shame; as it’s a luscious modern Folk song of grand proportions that shimmers and shines; and showcases both Kaia’s exciting songwriting ability and her pearlescent voice. I’ve certainly heard a lot weaker songs on Bob Harris’s various shows on BBC Radio 2; and that’s for sure. The accompanying Press Release can be a bit pompous at times; but does go someway to explaining the story behind the short interludes that intersperse several tracks; as it turns out to be Kaia’s father describing the time and events that surrounded his leaving the island of Grenada and moving to Canada……. powerful stuff indeed, especially Death of a Dream and in the same vein a couple of fascinating songs evolve from these stories; most notably the La Misere, an a’ Capella song sung in a French dialect and the title track Grenades; a cool late night Jazz tinged Folk song on which Kaia channels her inner Nina Simone to tell a harrowing story about her father’s homeland of Grenada; as the young Canadian delves into her roots and comes out with two amazing songs. Without knowing too much about Kaia Kater’s history or indeed back catalogue; GRENADES sounds a very ‘grown up’ album; and maybe it’s a Canadian thing; but the way several songs are constructed they remind me of Joni Mitchell post Blue; have a listen to Hydrants or Poets Be Buried and tell me I’m wrong. Selecting a Favourite Track on an album like this is never going to be easy; and as in the case of the Single there’s no real outlet these days for songs like these apart from your home stereo; which is a damn shame; but if you do only download one track let it be Canyonland; which even though has a banjo as the lead instrument (!) is a fabulous example of what is possible and available in the Modern Folk idiom and will make you want to download the rest of the album to see of Kaia Kater can match the quality of this nigh perfect four minutes; and she does! This is far from being a Concept Album; but in light of the world that the current incumbent in the White House is creating GRENADES asks some very fascinating questions and really does show a a young woman at the crossroads of an exciting career.
Daniel Seymour & Mark Robinson
CHUG IT DOWN AND GO.
Blind Chihuahua Records
A Little Taste of What Makes Americana Great.
In all honesty this album has been a bit of a challenge for me; not that I didn’t like it from the get go; but simply because there’s just so much going on it’s been damn difficult to get a handle on what to file it under!
Many moons ago I reviewed a Mark Robinson *album for a prestigious UK magazine and I once saw Daniel Seymour play bass alongside David Olney; and it appears that the dynamic duo have either supplied songs for or produced albums by many of RMHQ’s favourite Alt. Country acts over the years; but none of that prepared me for ‘this’ mish-mash of Rootsy Americana.
The rambunctious and stomping title track Chug It Down and Go opens the album in the finest of fashions, with Robinson on Resonator, Seymour slapping the living daylights out of an upright bass and Mr David Olney supplying sublime harmonica….what’s not to like.
This followed by the Cajun flavoured and accordion driven One Eyed Blue which will bring even a wooden leg back to life; as will the delightful guitar rag that is 19th Street Ramble and the charming Dixie Waltz which closes the album; and is every inch as delightful as the song’s title would suggest.
In between though there’s the world weary Slow Moving Train which sounds like either an out-take from the Band’s debut album, or something Levon Helm may have recorded many years later; yet Gypsy Moon and First Fool both take us back to the crooning Country we associate with the 20’s and 30’s but Take On Me Down The Road somehow manages to incorporate Jug Band Music and the type of Field Workers Blues that John Hammond Sr first discovered and all those white English boys turned into Rock & Roll in the late 1960’s!
With that last description in mind I’m pointing you to Bare Foot Gal featuring young David Olney again on a root’n and toot’n harmonica while the other two strum a banjo and blow a kazoo for extra authenticity.
Just like the rest of the album; it will leave you with a warm smile on your face.
As a stand alone album this isn’t always a cohesive listen; but I’m sure that if you were to see Daniel Seymour & Mark Robinson in a downtown bar or more likely at a Folk Festival somewhere you would find yourself desperate for something to take home; and in that setting this collection of songs will make complete sense.
My Years with Townes Van Zandt.
‘Music, Genius and Rage.’
Harold F Eggers Jr & LE McCullough
I first came across Townes Van Zandt courtesy of The Cowboy Junkies’ love song ‘Townes Blues’ and their cover of ‘To Live is To Fly’ on the BLACK EYED MAN album way back in 1992. A little bit of research brought me to a 23 track ‘Best Of’ which I purchased for £3.99 (it still has a sticker on it!) from Goldrush Records in Perth, Scotland; but, I really struggled with it; primarily because of Townes’ voice; which was and still is ‘something only a Mother could love’.
Thankfully in the intervening years my tastes have changed and Mr Van Zandt is now a cornerstone of my collection; and quite often the benchmark I now use for intelligent and heartfelt Americana; of which he was one of the finest singer-songwriters ever in that very competitive market place. #Fact
So; when this book was offered for review I couldn’t say “Yes please!” fast enough.
First of all this isn’t your normal biography; although bits and pieces of Townes early life is included but only as background, with tales of his Great Grandfather venturing into Indian territory with the family fortune and coming back with a mixed-race child and who knew he was enrolled in a Military Academy after being deemed unruly at school; then being given electric shock therapy to ‘cure his behaviour’ aged 19? Knowing what we know now about such things and with the benefit of hindsight he must have suffered from Bi-Polar Disorder; but for all of his 52 years he was just ‘troubled’.
The book is told from the point of view of Harold F Eggers who himself had ‘problems’ after serving in Vietnam and going on to become the songwriter’s Tour Manager, best friend, confidante, business partner and occasional getaway driver for over twenty years; while also building a successful career himself in the Music Industry.
Impressively Eggers never comes across as judgemental, intrusive or even sensationalist when recounting stories that will make your hair stand on end; but never actually surprising you.
As TVZ insisted many times in conversations with H, he tells the stories ‘honestly, warts and all’ and boy are there ‘warts’ here!
There are many individual concerts included from across the years, leaving me incredibly jealous at not discovering him until it was too late for me to see him play, as a couple of friends have on his infrequent visits to Europe and the UK where he found an adoring fan base which gave him a new lease of life late on in his career.
I won’t spoil it for you as there are surprises around every corner as our favourite Texas Troubadour’s charm shines through every chapter, even when you would cheerfully hold him down as Eggers strangles him after yet another successful attempt to grasp failure from the jaws of success, in a 20 year roller coaster ride of a tale that will break your heart and make you smile like all the best blockbusters do; and that’s how this story feels…..it’s a Blockbuster (and a ballbuster too).
I’ve seen Heartworn Highways several times so knew of his relationship with Guy, Rodney and the young Steve Earle, but who knew Dylan was a fan and an album by both men was planned but never materialised because our hero, who had cheated life so many, many times finally succumbed to the Ghosts that had haunted him all of his life on January 1st 1997.
Although I knew how the story ended and everything builds towards Van Zandt’s death; the last two chapters were still really hard for me to read; and when Eggers leaves a visibly ill Townes on New Years Eve and flies home to celebrate the holiday with his family; he writes……
“I fell asleep and was drowsing on the living room sofa, when our black lab, Jezebel began barking furiously, scampering around the house as if chasing an unseen visitor.
I woke with a start and watched the lights flicker, then dim for several seconds before coming back up. I tried to quiet her as two more light dimming cycles occurred; then the lights stabilized and the dog hushed.”
Half an hour later the phone rang and Townes wife Jeanene whispered, “Townes has gone.”
By this stage tears were streaming down my cheeks.
The congregation at the service after TVZ’s cremation is a veritable who’s who of the nascent Roots/Americana scene with Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle among many others sang his songs and told beautiful stories about a very troubled man who history now knows was a true Genius.
A Spellbinding Blend Of British Folk and Carolina Hill Music.
We rather liked the last EP from Robert Jackson and Alicia Best and have been looking forward to the couple’s debut album since that release 12 months ago.
The album opens with Roberts pouring his heart out on the dark tinged Folk Song On a Whim; with Alicia supplying delicious harmonies that bely the couple’s background from different continents.
The mood picks up with the snappy Hold Me Down which follows; which has a bit of a sea-shanty melody if I’m not too mistaken, and the fiddle sounds a lot more British West Country than American West.
Which is actually one of the things I like most about A Different Thread; they aren’t afraid to mix n match their respective musical backgrounds; with one coming from the Litchfield middle of England and the other Durham, North Carolina.
Both singers; when they take the lad have their very own virtues; complimenting each other like leather and lace; with Alicia’s breathy and pearlescent voice being able to melt the hardest of hearts on Potter’s Field, Carolina Song and most notably the haunting Not Good With Words which closes the disc.
Jackson; on the other hand likes a good ole foot-stomper; with The Farmers Mistress and Hold Me Down proving I can like Traditional Folk music; if I really put my mind to it; but in these cases there’s definitely an Old School Americana feel to the tunes as well.
Choosing a favourite song hasn’t been easy as, when Jackson slows things down on High Time and Alicia provides shimmering harmonies the couple transcend normal musical boundaries; but I’m going to point you towards the pretty Rosa Rosa which has Alicia on lead vocals which somehow remind me of the young Rita Coolidge or maybe even Bobbie Gentry; I guess it’s the Southern genes that does it.
Sometimes I can get bogged down in comparing acts that you’ve not heard of, so you can get an idea of what they sound like; and now I’ve re-read my words it may confuse you if I mention singers and songwriters like Tom Paxton, Richard Thompson, Rita and even Sandy Denny; but there are hints of all these and more in the distinctive way A Different Thread perform their well written and thoughtful songs; but they don’t sound like any other duo/band I can actually think of, and that’s no bad thing at all.
Give them a try; I doubt you will be disappointed.
PARALLEL WATERFALLS (Single)
Hopefully you will remember Simon Murphy’s 2015 album LET IT BE that we loved (and still love) at RMHQ, well apart from making babies with his lovely wife (one toddling and one about to hatch imminently) and continuing the day job as a psychiatric therapist in Belfast (God Bless him!) in his spare time Simon has continued writing perfect songs and even managed a trip or two to Nashville Town pitching his wares, playing a couple of gigs and most importantly writing and co-writing a heap of new songs, which will be released primarily as singles during 2018.
This is the first, a co-write with (Grammy Award Winner no less) Don Henry and is absolutely beautiful……and Simon has given us the EXCLUSIVE first play of the video and you can buy it from the relevant streaming websites in the next couple of weeks; but we suggest you go directly to yer man’s own website listed below.
JOY & INDEPENDENCE
At The Helm Records
A Starkly Beautiful Collection of Stories From English Songwriting Troubadour.
In my less lucid moments I think I pretty much have my finger on the pulse of British Acoustic and Americana style music; and then along comes singer-songwriter and all around troubadour Jason McNiff who has released 5 previous albums including a best selling double retrospective; and I’ve never heard of him.
Shame on me.
This ‘stripped back’ album; and all there ever is is McNiff’s breathy vocals, expertly strummed guitar occasional harmonica with no show-boating to divert your attention from his stunning and articulate songs.
The first thing you hear is the title track Joy and Independence, which uses those words as the Christian names of the young couple in the bittersweet story of carefree love across one glorious year long adventure; 25 years ago.
Is there a happy ending? You didn’t think I would tell you; did you?
Now I’ve played this album 6 or 7 times, I’m truly impressed by McNiff’s storytelling and way with words and imagery which conjures up memories of the first time I heard the likes of Townes, Guy and more importantly Tom Paxton all those years ago.
While McNiff’s presentation style is quite laid back; just like his fore-bearers your ears will keep pricking up as stories unfold; with Dream Of a Highway and Wind of Zaragoza both sounding like any of those three songwriters would have been proud to have been written by them.
With Ed Sheeran filling stadiums across the world, I hope that the current wind of change in Folk Music means that songs like the darkly beautiful Italy and the song for songwriters everywhere, And The Sun Comes Up On My Dreams can find the far reaching audience that they deserve; but the cream always rises to the to anyway, doesn’t it?
When it comes to choosing a ‘Favourite Track’ for you, I’m actually spoilt for choice with the spoken intro to the delightful Midnight Shift initially catching my ear, then the re-working of Stuck In The Past proves to be another wonderful example of a songwriter writing from personal experience; but I’m going for a left of centre choice again with Amanda.
It’s an odd and very brave subject for someone to write about; but this tragic tale of Amanda Knox is the type of song my heroes in the 60’s made careers from; and it’s fair to say Jason McNiff treads very cautiously over the broken glass but comes out with a dramatic yet sad song that will make you ‘think,’ smile and possibly even shed a tear as it slowly unfolds and unwinds.
Tucked away in the middle is Thoughts; a delightful duet with Lily Ramona and it may be the one commercial song here that just might find its way onto radio and therefore draw attention to the rest of this starkly beautiful album.