Gitta De Ridder
FOR EVERYTHING A SEASON
A Pearlescent Voice That Will Break Your Heart And Songs You Will Fall In Love With.
I’ve wanted to give this album the time it takes to do it justice; but I’ve had a bit of a noisy Blues thing going on lately, and from what I know of Gitta De Ridder I knew that this was going to be a ‘sit back and concentrate’ type of record; and I was right.
There’s an otherworldly resonance to Gitta’s voice on opening song My Dear, Oh Boy, Oh Man and her intricate acoustic guitar picking is simply wonderful; and the lyrics verge on the poetic in a way vaguely reminiscent of Elliott Smith or Nick Drake.
The more I’ve sat and wallowed in this beautiful recording the more I’ve got from it; especially These Hands which sounds multi-tracked and multi-layered leaving me multi-emotional, as for an acoustic ‘Folk song’ it bloomin’ well rocks.
Here’s The Plan also comes a bit out of left-field; with it’s clock like drum beat and flowery guitar making it well worth checking out.
Obviously/Presumably? FOR EVERYTHING A SEASON will be filed in the Folk section; but there is so much more to it and the more I stretch for the correct descriptive word to describe Every Inch Naked and Knowing a Ghost the word ‘contemporary’ springs to mind; but I just wish I was more literate as these songs, and more like them are so much more interesting than that word suggests.
Wow! I must mention All Is Love at this stage, not least because it’s another sharply observed multi-layered song but includes some razor-sharp bottle-neck guitar too giving it an extra edge that I wasn’t expecting.
I mentioned Elliott Smith and Nick Drake earlier; but now I think Gitta sounds like a long lost relative of Dame Eddi Reader; and like the Scottish songstress Ms De Ridder has a very personal and expressive style of singing, with The Seasons Will Change being a very intense but beautiful four minutes and is instantly followed by No Words which is the type of deep ‘bedsit’ singer-songwriter fare that I pored over in my teens; desperately trying to unravel the meaning of life from a song.
With no National Radio outlets for this type of music any more there’s hardly ever any need for a single; but Gitta is realising The Wheel as such a marketing device; and please God let some discerning producer somewhere hear it and sneak it onto a playlist at Radio 2 or 6; because it’s just quirky enough to capture the public’s attention and if not; at least it was a contender for RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’!
That title though, goes to Baby Darling Blue which opens with a quaint child’s xylophone solo before Gitta dispenses with her guitar and croons the most delectable lullaby you will ever hear.
I’m not sure what’s left to say; there are a zillion female singer-songwriters out there; each with their own merits, but in Gitta De Ridder we have not just an excellent songwriter but an extraordinary singer too with a lovely pearlescent voice that will break your heart as you fall in love with her songs.
Released March 23rd 2018
Birds of Chicago
ROLL AWAY (Single)
March 6, 2018 – Today, Birds of Chicago announce May 4th as the release date for their upcoming album Love in Wartime on Signature Sounds, and share the first track “Roll Away”. Led by JT Nero and Allison Russell, Birds of Chicago are known for their seamless combination of rock n roll meets “near perfect Americana” (No Depression). Nero and Russell recently recorded Love in Wartime, an album envisioned as a cinematic rock n roll suite, with producer Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars)at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio in Chicago.
The first single “Roll Away” was written as a shot in the arm for the heartsick, hibernating or otherwise embittered, and invokes the rites of spring with the very real sense that there’s no time to lose.
Here’s a live version…………….
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND
The First Lady of American Folk Still Surprises, Astonishes and Delivers.
For once I don’t have to do an introduction do I? This is Joan Baez after all…..what else do you need to know?
Well; to coincide with Ms. Baez’s final ever Tour this album is yet again made up of songs written by her favourite contemporary songwriters; with a couple of delightful surprises along the way.
The Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan song Whistle Down The Wind, which doubles as the title track opens proceedings and the first thing you notice is how beautiful Joan’s voice still is on this pleasing almost Celtic rendition of the song from Bone Machine.
Joan covers another of the couples more poetic songs; with the words of Last Leaf (on the tree) sounding uncannily perfect for Joan who is now of a ‘certain vintage’ herself.
With a million songs to choose from, only another couple were already familiar here at RMHQ with
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s The Things That We Are Made Of now becoming almost anthemic and Josh Ritter’s delicate Be Of Good Heart and Silver Leaf both sounding like they could have been on Joan’s debut album in 1960, thanks to the ethereal production from Joe Henry.
One of Henry’s own songs makes an appearance too; and Civil War takes on a whole new resonance in the hands and voice of American Folk Music’s First Lady…….’beautiful’ only comes close to describing the way she performs his words.
The major surprise for me though are the songs I’d never heard before; Eliza Gilykson’s The Great Correction is another timeless song that sounds like Joan could have recorded at anytime in the last 60 years as is Tim Erikson’s I Wish The Wars Were All Over; which is a stunning way to close this wonderful collection of songs.
Then of course I’m obliged to pick a ‘Favourite’ which in the light of today’s political shenanigans in the USA I can’t look past he stunning words of Zoe Mulford on The President Sang Amazing Grace. I’d not heard of Zoe prior to hearing this song…….but WOW……and indeed WOW……if the rest of her songs are half as powerful as this one song; she’s a very talented writer indeed and Joan Baez sings it as if her very life depends on you hearing it.
So, there you have it; Joan Baez’s 25th studio album and first in 10 years and she still has the ability to surprise with her choice of songs and, more importantly the way she delivers the words on a silver platter is astonishing after all of this time.
Released March 2nd 2018
I’m With Her
SEE YOU AROUND
The Perfect Soundtrack to the Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer.
I’m not sure what constitutes a ‘Supergroup’ these days especially in the Roots world; but a combination of Sara Watkins, Aiofe O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz must surely deserve such a title, shouldn’t it?
The short history is that these three musicians got together for an impromptu show in 2014 which was such a success (surprise, surprise) that the trio have played together as often as schedules have allowed in the intervening years, receiving incredulous reviews and eventually the recording of this album in London with Ethan Jones at the controls.
It’s easy to see from the opening song See You Around what all of the fuss is about. At face value it’s a simple Country-Folk song; but when you actually ‘listen to it’ the intricate harmonies should normally only come from siblings; but the three disparate voices don’t just compliment each other but sound like a Summer breeze blowing through a field of wild flowers; and the ladies’ musicianship is nothing short of exemplary too.
You could easily play this one song over and over again and still be happy; but no there is more and…..even better to come.
As you would expect the lead vocals and songwriting are shared around fairly equally; and it would be a little unfair to single out any single singer for high praise; as it’s the ‘overall sound’ that this album is all about; playfully moving seamlessly from the more traditional Folk songs like Pangaea and Ryland (Under The Apple Tree) through to a more contemporary Country Folk ‘feel’ on Game To Lose, Crescent City and I-89 without you ever seeing the joins.
Personally I’ve appreciated but never really got into the solo work by these three ladies over the years; but together they have certainly won my heart here; with two songs in particular making my heart beat faster than it is meant to.
Close It Down is a very clever song when you pick apart the lyrics; but that doesn’t come until you have had your senses left tingling by the way the three voices swoop and soar like butterflies in the Garden of Eden; and that’s not even my favourite song here!
Regular readers and my friends will tell you that I’m no lover of Folk Music; but if it all sounded like Ain’t That Fine I would grow a beard and start wearing badly fitting jeans in an instant! That said, a lot of this record actually reminds me a bit of the early Dixie Chicks….so is it Country? Country-Folk? Who the Hell cares what pigeon-hole it might fit in; because it doesn’t…….it’s ROOTS MUSIC at it’s best.
I’m writing this review on a bitterly cold February afternoon with heavy snow forecast for the next few days and SEE YOU AROUND is the perfect soundtrack to a day just sitting in the living room just as much as it will be in Spring and more importantly those hazy, lazy days of Summer.
Released 23rd February 2018
Market Square Music
Exquisite Inter-crossed Country-Folk From a Northern Industrial Town.
Don’t feel sorry for me but I have very few ‘friends’ in the music industry; not even casual ones; as I’ve made it a policy to keep away from the cliques that dominate the national and local scenes; leaving me free to review albums and gigs without the fear of upsetting someone who thinks I owe them a favour.
But; the musical stars have aligned on this latest release from adopted Geordie and recent resident of Berlin, Gem Andrews, who actually is a friend of mine and the cover artwork (a truly beautiful photo of Gem *plodging in front of St. Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay) by my mate David Wala and the crystal clear production and mixing is by local legend Ross Lewis……so can I be impartial?
The album opens with Letter a brooding love song that encompasses all that is I love about Gem’s music in under three and a half minutes. Just like everything which follows this song comes from a Folk Singer who has immersed herself in Country Music and turned herself into a good old fashioned and timeless Singer-Songwriter.
Sing Your Song follows and I soon found myself slouching in my chair desperately trying not to breathe too loudly in case I missed a word or phrase and would regret it for the rest of my life. It’s that type of breathtaking song.
I particularly like the way the fabled Tim Dalling has arranged Julia Darlings poem Two Lighthouses; keeping a Folk spirit to it that makes people like me fall in love with the words and sentiment, without realising it’s actually a Folk Song.
Hmmmm…..selecting a ‘favourite song’ is never easy; and here it’s nearly impossible with the tigerish Lungs being an early contender but Feather & Skin somehow stands out like poppy in a field of golden wheat. Ross Lewis’s simple production truly displays Gem’s pearlescent voice and the restrained way the musicians (aka The Mush Collective) come together in an almost Classical manner without ever threatening to overshadow the singers hushed tones is genuinely admirable.
One other song deserves a mention if for no other reason than the delightful Come a Long Way which closes the disc features some of the finest ‘cardboard box whacking’ from Dora & Macie Keddie-McLaren that you will ever hear.
When I hear albums like this, and especially songs like Bare which features some spellbinding violin from Bernard Wright and the Countrylicious Medicate I find myself despairing at the British music industry; because if Gem was from the Appalachians or indeed some tiny village in North Ontario the Press and indeed Mr Bob Harris himself would be falling over themselves to tell you about ‘the next big thing;’ but Gem is British and more importantly NORTHERN so has to plough her own furrow at her own expense and depend on sites like this to get her songs out into the wider world.
There’s not a bad song here; with Gem’s voice, writing and it has to be said her guitar playing have matured beyond all expectations…..perhaps marriage suits her.
*plodging = local dialect for paddling in the sea.
PS….The pedal-steel player? ‘The’ Chris Hillman?
Released February 16th 2018
Beth Nielsen Chapman
HEARTS OF GLASS
BNC Records/Proper Music
Crystal Clear Songs From and For The Heart.
Aaahhh….swooon…..Beth Nielsen Chapman you say? Well; she’s a definite favourite here at RMHQ especially Mrs Magpie who had to have this disc wrenched from her hands when I needed it for review purposes.
I have no idea how she’s thought of in the USA but over here after years of touring Beth is very much an ‘International Treasure’ and has taken the place in our hearts that was warmly reserved for Nanci Griffith.
When I got around to reading the accompanying Press Release it confused me as it made HEARTS OF GLASS sound like something of a hotch-potch and possibly even ‘experimental’ when nothing could be further from the truth. Yes Beth includes some older songs that she has recorded with guitar instead of piano and a more spartan production than on previous versions; but sitting alongside the newer songs they fit in perfectly.
Opening track Come To Mine is quintessential Beth Nielsen Chapman; a delightful modern Country flavoured Folk song; that when you peel away the veneer has some very sharp observations inside the lyrics; which isn’t a surprise when you find it’s actually a co-write with Graham Gouldman and Kevin Montgomery; two of the 20th Century’s finest songwriters.
Track #2 Old Church Hymns & Old Nursery Rhymes might be familiar to older readers; but not me. Originally written for Waylon Jennings’ 1990 EAGLE album; Beth strips it back to the bone and gives her words the freedom to breathe that they truly deserve.
It’s similar tale with If My World Didn’t Have You, which she wrote for Willie Nelson and her own Child Again and Rage On Rage which are all re-visited and simplified; making them ever more beautiful than I remembered.
Fans of Beth Nielsen Chapman will already know she has had had her own problems in recent years and some of these are subtly touched upon in Epitaph For Love and of course, You’re Still My Valentine which are both as good as anything I’ve heard from Beth in recent years and Sam Ashworth’s ultra-simple production brings out two very sensitive performances.
We’ve played this album quite a bit over the last few weeks and have both fallen in love with it as a complete record; but when prompted to choose a ‘favourite song’ we nearly had an argument!
Mrs. Magpie immediately picked Child Again; as it ‘touched her’ in a way a song hasn’t for years. I can’t argue with the sentiment; and I can even picture a video for the song as I listen again; which is always a good sign….but…. Life Holds On is one of those songs that only comes along once in a lifetime, and a subject very few other songwriters could write about and make this scintillating.
As Beth herself says in the Press Release Dancer To The Drum which closes the record bookends everything quite perfectly, and yet again showcases Beth Nielsen Chapman’s prowess with the English Language in a way that will send a shiver down your spine.
HEARTS OF GLASS is the perfect title for this collection of songs; as each and every one is for and from the heart and performed in such a fragile way; thanks to Sam Ashworth’s crystal clear production that the album must surely jump into the singer’s Top 3 of all time.
Released February 9th 2018
Well Crafted and Quintessential English Pop/Folk Crossover At It’s Finest.
I have to hold my hands up here because Crayon Angels not just appealed to my vanity when they got in touch asking if I would review this, their second EP (saying really nice things about RMHQ) but also resorting to ‘payolla’ by including a cool badge with the CD …..and I do like a badge!
In fairness that only goes so far with me; as my time is far too precious to waste on music I don’t like; so it was a lovely surprise to hear opening track The Last Leaf sounding uncannily like mid-period Beautiful South; with singer Natalia Castiglioni’s warmly absorbing voice winning my heart in an instant on a quirky love song.
As they say themselves this trio from the Essex Hinterlands are very difficult to pin down; as they are undoubtedly a Folk Group at heart but with over-riding Pop sensibilities in the best of British traditions; as the title track proves. Delicious harmonies; a Spectoresque production coupled with intricate instrumentation and a deep and meaningful kitchen sink drama of a song combine to create a track that is quintessential English Pop music at its best.
The EP comes to an all too quick closure with the haunting Colour & Sound; which had me scratching my head until it dawned on me that it reminded me of the long forgotten River City People and Siobhan Maher-Kennedy that I loved to bits twenty odd years ago; a timeless soft-rock sound that certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio.
Then I have to swoop back to track #3 Your Sorry Self for my ‘Favourite Track’ accolade; and one of those songs that stopped me right in my tracks the first time I heard it.
Perhaps it was the mood I was in that day, or it could be the exquisite production but this tale of indiscretion really touched my heart; and really and truly showcases Natalia’s stunning vocals.
It’s discovering gems like The Crayon Angels that makes all the hours I put in on the website worthwhile. Artistes like this trio are the heartbeat of the music industry and deserve a much wider audience than the Folk Clubs of North London and the Essex Borders; but you know that don’t you….because you know a singer or band in your local area that is wasting their time singing to one man and a dog on a Tuesday night; when Ed Sheeran and Coldplay can sell-out football stadiums in 3 seconds flat.
Hey ho; trust me, this EP is a beautiful little thing and needs to be loved and cherished by people who appreciate well crafted and heartfelt music. Buy it ASAP.
Released February 5th 2018
John Oates & The Good Road Band
Music From an Abandoned Luncheonette Jukebox In Big Pink.
Hmmmmmm; I’m always deeply suspicious when a Million Selling Megastar suddenly ‘finds’ a long lost love of Roots Music and gets to release a very ‘alright’ album in a blitz of publicity; much to the detriment of acts that tread the boards around the country every night of the week trying to make a living with very similar; but original material.
Now that bit’s out of the way; I hadn’t realised that this John Oates was actually THE John Oates of Hall & Oates fame, because the disc didn’t have a Press Release with it……you clever clogs Del Day!
So, it was with no preconceptions I slipped the disc into the car stereo on a cold and sunny January morning and let the music do its business.
I’m no real fan of Bluegrass but the gentle Anytime which opens the record was a very pleasant surprise indeed; with some sweet picking from the Good Road Band and a singer who sounds like he’s been around the block a time or two (if only I had known!).
This is followed by an Oates original, the title track Arkansas with it’s edgy mandolin as lead instrument. Hmm, hmm, hmm….. this is as cool a slice of Southern Roots as I’ve heard in quite a few years. Gorgeous harmonies and a band that must be steeped in the traditions of The Band, coupled to that ‘road-worn’ voice again; and the scene was set for a lovely day out in the Northern hills.
John Oates claims ‘this is the album that he has always wanted to make’ and that may be true; especially the way he has arranged hoary old Folk songs like My Creole Belle, Stack O Lee and Lord Send Me; breathing new life into each and possibly introducing them to a whole new generation or at least group of music lovers.
I actually had four new albums in the car that day; and this one stayed in the stereo as it just seemed the perfect soundtrack to my car journey; especially the ornery Dig Back Deep and the other John Hurt classic Spike Driver Blues; which features some really mean finger-picking geetar.
I’ve not had much time to play my old Blues albums lately so RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’ status falls on Blind Blake’s That’ll Never Happen No More, which is a song I’ve loved for many a year but, in fairness the original isn’t really ‘easy on the ear’ is it? So John Oates Ragtime version is the overall winner on an album that has surprised and delighted me in equal measures over the last week.
Perhaps this album will finally make me reassess my feeling towards Big Time Charlie’s muscling in our little world; but then again it will get Roots Music a little byline in our national newspapers and magazines, won’t it?
Released February 2nd 2018
The Lake Poets
LIVE AT THE SAGE (Gateshead)
An Emotional and Poetic Journey From The North East’s Finest Wordsmith.
Do you know the conundrum about having a favourite artist or band that no one knows about but you crave for them to become huge megastars; although that means you would no longer get to say “hello” when they play a tiny venue walking distance from your house?
Martin Longstaff aka The Lake Poets is my conundrum. He has a fan and friend in ex-Eurythmic and all round megastar Dave Stewart; but we first fell in love with his songwriting and pearlescent voice a good few years ago when his song 1996 was part of a locally released Christmas album showcasing local acts.
Hey ho; the past is another country and there is this delightful EP to drool over.
Recorded in December 2016 in a sold out Hall #1 at Sage Gateshead with the String section of the Sage’s Youth Music Programme as accompaniment, friends told me Marty held the audience transfixed for well over an hour; but we only get six of the songs here; which is a shame, but an aural pleasure none the less.
Longstaff’s love songs aren’t ‘moon in June’ nonsense as opening song Your Face exemplifies, he is very much a songwriter with a Poet’s soul; using words and expressions in a way that will gently squeeze your heart until you forget to breathe. Then as the song fades to a close you will gently let out a sigh and wipe a tea from the corner of your eye.
There has always been gentle echoes of Nick Drake and John Martyn at times in some of The Lake Poets songs; and To The Lighthouse is just such a perfect example in the way he brings such a delicate story to life and leaves the listener emotionally shattered.
One of Martin’s strengths as a songwriter is the way he can inhabit the character in a song about some very dark subjects unlike anyone else I can think of. Black and Blue is a tale of domestic violence seen through the eyes of a child, and the production, engineering and mixing are exemplary for a live recording as you can not only hear a pin drop but Longstaff occasionally taking a breath between lines.
There are never many laughs in The Lake Poets songs; but sometimes we all need to hear a song that will make us feel better about ourselves; such is the case with the luscious See You Tonight, as the strings swoop and soar over Marty’s intricate guitar playing while the words of a very clever song seep into the subconscious like the very oxygen we breathe every day.
Then, there is the final track and our ‘favourite song’ on this all too short recording; Vane Tempest. A staple of Lake Poets concerts for a few years now this love song to the singer’s Father who was a coal miner at the pit of the same name; and how the infamous Miners Strike of 1984-85 affected him; but allowed the sons of the miners to fly free from the shackles their fathers were bound by for generations.
Phew; this short EP is a roller-coaster of emotions, and a beautiful journey it is too. For a download the sound quality is outstanding and very much befitting The Lake Poets words and sounds in a way they deserve to be heard.
Released December 29th 2017
THE MAD MARTINS
An Epic Tale of Three Geordie Brothers Who Changed The World.
Normally traditional ‘finger in the ear’ Folk Music bores me to tears; but very occasionally something comes along that captures my attention and yet again it has come from the mind and pens of Folk singer-songwriter Gary Miller and acclaimed poet Keith Armstrong; two NE Legends..
The story of The Mad Martins meant nothing to me in late 2017 when this amazing package (including a triple album and an extra instrumental cd) arrived; but I’ve had my mind truly expanded over the last four weeks.
Who knew that three brothers from the South Tyne would and could have such an effect on British history in the 18th Century?
Starting with Three Mad Martins (Prophecy) Gary inhabits the spirit of the son’s mother over a traditional Geordie toe-tapper of a tune and the scene is set for a rip-roaring tale of men who would go on to become ‘ a “Philosophical Conqueror of all Nations” and a doggerel poet, pamphleteer, engraver and inventor (William aka ‘The Lion of Wallsend’); “the notorious incendiary” of York Minster in 1829, prone to frequent fits of rage against the clergy, including an attempt to assassinate the Bishop of Oxford leading to his committal to several lunatic asylums (Jonathan), and the youngest, John who devised sewage schemes for London, along with a number of other inventions but is most famous for
his epic New Romantic paintings of Biblical scenes. One of these, ‘Pandemonium’, based on Milton’s ‘End of the World’, sold in 2003 for a record £1.65 million!
Part entertainment and part history lesson, the word ‘epic’ only comes close to describing the way the story is told in song, word and verse with some stunning artistry in the background from an array of musicians.
The Mad Martins, in true Folk Fashion is told in three ‘Acts’ beginning with William’s story then Jonathan and finally the successful painter John.
Choosing individual songs to point you towards is bordering on the impossible; as this is a ‘musical story’ and is meant to be heard in one long session; and by jove it works…..I actually sat listening intently as the stories unfolded in a way that beggars the regional nature of the subject matter.
But select I will, because that’s what I do!
On disc #1 Poet Keith Armstrong’s speech ‘On Libraries’ is fascinating and who among us can resist a title like ‘Cure For Cholera’ but again Keith’s warm Geordie voice makes a weird subject very entertaining; trust me. But the winner on this first disc is the Folk Rocker William, You Were Really Something …..ok, the title nods towards the Smiths but Gary breaths new life into an exciting period in our nations history that owes everything to a Geordie Genius!
Disc #2 is Jonathan’s story and opens with a nautical theme; I have to say I was disappointed (not really) with In The Navy as it isn’t the Village People version; but a hornpipe; but Jonathan’s tale takes on a really exciting path with Blood, Fire and Smoke and the rollicking Madhouse Martin; but there’s a golden love story thread too, with Keith’s poem Jonathan’s Departure from Maria being followed by the beautiful ballad Maria’s Testimony, which actually does stand out as an individual song that could be played on the wireless.
It’s fascinating to note that two of the tales here are Keith Armstrong reading from Charles Dickens’ letters ‘On Visiting Jonathan in Bedlam Asylum.’ Again; why didn’t I know this story? I studied Dickens for O’Levels many years ago and knew he visited the North East; but this wasn’t part of any of the books I was forced to read.
As you might expect, the mood and tone picks up on Disc #3 John Martin’s story. There’s a jaunty, even ragtime feel to Picture of the Scriptures and In My Hands sounds like it could be from a Cameron McIntosh music theatre piece; but then again the whole story and the way Gary Miller (and friends) presents it has a feel of a Northumbrian Les Miserables about it; with the final three tracks starting with the larger-than-life Pandemonium looking back on the brothers story on the day of the painting’s sale then Keith pulls all of the strings together with a ghostly tale THREE MAD MARTINS (epitaph) before he closes the story with another gorgeous 21st Century poem At Anchor that has it’s soul in a story of a family over 200 years previously.
I’m nearly lost for words now; I knew nothing of this story and feel obliged to read more deeply into it but more importantly this magnificently packaged Triple Disc box-set deserves a much wider audience than Gary Miller and Keith Armstrong’s loyal fan base; the story and they way they tell it deserves a much bigger and indeed national stage; all it needs is a generous benefactor; because if Sting can get his tale of the Wallsend shipyards onto Broadway then there’s indeed hop for The Mad Martins; now where is my lottery ticket from last night?
Released January 26th 2018
The World of John Martin…..http://www.wojm.org.uk/