John Murry – A Short History of Decay

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John Murry
A Short History of Decay

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

Benjamin Folke Thomas – ACOUSTIC CLASSICS.


Benjamin Folke Thomas
ACOUSTIC CLASSICS (Live For Your Listening Pleasure)
Louvaio Productions

A Genuine One Man Show With Articulate Folk Songs and Lots of Laughs Too.

Everything about this release makes it a winner at RMHQ; as if I’d been browsing the racks in a record shop I’m 99% sure the cover would have attracted my attention even if I’d not heard and loved Ben Folk Thomas’s previous release COPENHAGEN; but primarily his wicked sense of humour in recording this Live album in his living room only with only himself and numerous overdubs of him cheering, laughing and even heckling himself as the singer is way beyond a brilliant concept!!
Let’s start at the beginning (a very good place to start!) I’m Alive; a rather brittle and beautiful love song that is brought to life by Ben’s rich singing voice and compelling guitar strumming.
Then we get the first story/introduction and it……sounds so…..’real’ as he explains the background to Good Friend Again from COPENHAGEN; and the song itself has gained a lot more gravitas sung ‘live’ as does the song named after his Grandfather Finn and the title track Copenhagen from that wonderful album.
Just as in his ‘real’ concerts, there are songs both old and new with jokes a ‘plenty in his introductions……corny jokes, but absolutely hilarious when you know the gag about the audience who howl with laughter.
The songs though are what we are here for and existing fans will thrill at hearing the darkly fragile Nothing Next To You and Woman I Love which juxtapose each other; and Folk music never sounded more interesting.
While I really, really love this album from start to finish; but two songs chiselled their way into my head the first time I heard them; partly because of their introductions; with the silver-tongued Sex , which closes the concert just losing out to Married which also is another good song; but made ‘great’ by the monologue which leads into a truly tremendous modern Folk song.
I’m normally not a lover of Live Albums, but ACOUSTIC CLASSICS, like the classic Compleat Tom Paxton from 1970 works on so many different levels and bares repeated listening; or at least it does in the RMHQ office and I think it will in your house too.

Released UK July 10th 2017

SummerTyne Americana Festival 2017 Sage Gateshead

summertyne 2017

SummerTyne Americana Festival 2017
Sage Gateshead
21-23 July.

First of all, I had the discussion “What exactly is Americana Music?” five times on the run up to and then over the weekend. It is a fascinating question, as I ‘know’ what it is, but find it increasingly difficult to quantify; especially as over the weekend we witnessed a diverse mix of music from straight forward Country via Alt. Country, Pop-Country, with a bit of Western Swing too, lots of Bluegrass and Folk many singer-songwriters, a smidgen of Southern Rock, The Blues (Country Blues AND Blues Rock) and some sweet, sweet Soul Music too. Confused? You won’t be!

Summertyne Frifday 2
As usual the weekend started at noon on Friday outside the magnificent Sage Music Centre on the Jumping Hot Club stage with the quaintly named Home Fries acts, from the local region.
With the crowds already filling Shipcote Hill the delightful Rhona Dalling and her sweet Country Folk songs got the day started in the most delightful manner.
After a short break the more rumbustious Buffalo Skinners got the toes tapping in the sunshine, before legendary singer-songwriter and former Pop-star Paul Handyside alongside Rob Tickell performed a series of dark and articulate modern Folk songs, much to the crowd’s obvious delight.
Next up were The King Bees, who annoy me more and more every time I see them. I say ‘annoy’ but it’s only because their brand of Classic Chicago Blues is so incendiary it blows me away every time I see them; but they all have day jobs and can’t find the time (or finances) to go into a recording studio. It was no surprise to see the first of the fabled SummerTyne ‘dancers’ filling the sides of the stage.
The sun was shining and barely a blade of grass could be seen on Shipcote Hill as Archie Brown and the Prisoners of Fender made a welcome return to the picturesque stage overlooking the Newcastle Quayside. After seeing his many incarnations over the last 40 years I’m still not sure how to describe his ‘music’…..think Tom Waits singing Rock and Roll with the coolest Blues band in New Orleans; or something like that!
There was a relatively last minute change to the headline slot, with the Theresa Watson Band and her heady mix of Blues and Soul filing the night air as 6 or more people danced their hearts out in front of the stage.
As the ‘outside crowd’ began packing their bits n bobs away and thousands more were making their way into the Sage to see Sold Out shows by both the Shires in Hall 1 and Merle Haggard’s sons Ben and Noel in Hall 2, I got to see the kids from the Stax Music Academy on the concourse stage blowing the dust off a series of songs that changed my life…….WOW! But more of them later.
Catherine McGrath who launched the evening performances in Hall 1 is a new name to me; but her lovely Northern Irish voice brought some lovely Countryish songs to life; and her chirpy demeanour caught the attention of many people around me.
She was followed by Sarah Darling who is exciting a lot of people within the British Country Music scene and I can now see (and hear) why…..hopefully she will be back in the area soon.
But, the 1600 people who had bought tickets within 72 hours of them coming on sale had come to see the Stars of British Country Music; the Shires.
It was a similar mix of songs from their two hit albums, as their previous visit in December but no one minded with glazed eyed fans singing along from start to finish. I was really impressed with the way their stage presence has evolved in the last four years. To see them tonight you’d think they had been filling halls for ten years or more; as opposed to their debut on the Concourse Stage downstairs in front of 50 people and another 50 empty seats in 2014!
A few feet away in Hall 2 there was a pair of Country acts that intrigued me. Thankfully my AAA Photo-Pass meant I could see most of both concerts (with Mrs Magpie filling in the gaps at the Shires concert).
Ashley Campbell is the daughter of Glen Campbell and, while several ‘friends’ felt she leant on that relationship, I didn’t and was stunned by her dexterity on the banjo and has a fabulous voice… to watch methinks.
I’m going to be contentious now; I’ve never been a fan of Merle Haggard, and tonight seeing a hall full of Country Music fans ‘wallowing in the past’ and, with so much new and exiting music to see and hear it filled me with despair.
Merle’s youngest son Ben actually has a great voice and can play the guitar with flair; while eldest son Noel who looks and sounds a bit like his father relied more on humour and laughs. Me? I was left non-plussed by it all but the following day two friends were still starry eyed at the thought of the concert. You can’t please everyone, can you?

Summertyne 17 Friday

Things started early with a grey faced crowd queuing from 10 am on the Quayside for cruise up and down the Tyne to the music of Ashley Campbell and Massy Ferguson.
Me? I was at work until 4pm… I had to employ Magpie Spies to bring you Saturday’s day time adventures.
At noon jaws dropped all over Shipcote Hill as the first notes from the Stax Academy filtered out across Gateshead…..WOW……for the first, but not the last time this weekend these kids blew socks off music fans with their amazing voices and musical skills on four Stax Soul Classics……dancing? You betcha.
While the JHC stage was being changed around Laura Oakes was winning hearts and minds on the AMA UK Concourse stage with her punchy modern British Country songs, and RMHQ favourite Vera Van Heeringen was playing the first of two gigs in the SummerTyne Lounge.
With the sun fighting through the clouds the feisty Country Rock of Fargo Railroad Company went down really well with the swelling crowds on Shipcote Hill.
As they finished there was a mad rush inside for the sold-out show in Hall 2….Sold Out at 2pm? That musty be something really special; and it was (and I bloody missed it…grrrrr); a double header with Danni Nicholls and the new ‘darling of the Ameripolitan’ Angaleena Presley both making their NE debuts. I subsequently spoke to 8 diverse people who saw the show and each said it was the highlight of this particular weekend and a couple suggested it may be in the Top 10 of all time.
While that crowd were pretending they were in Nashville, those outside knew they were in Gateshead as it started raining just before Vera Van Heeringen came on stage; but the umbrellas came out and the ponchos unfurled as our favourite Dutch songstress wowed them with some terrific songs from her new album.
As happens at Festivals sometimes there are two or three things happening at once but thankfully the Magpie Spies caught the spellbinding smoky voice of Danni Nicholls on the AMA UK Concourse stage, while three others watched the place go wild outside for the exhilarating Rockabilly of Howlin’ Ric and the Rocketeers; who quite possibly ‘stole the show’ and negotiations were immediately struck for a follow up gig …..sometime soon.
I finally arrived as the incredibly handsome Paul Carella was on the AMA UK and sounded mighty impressive too, on the two songs I heard.
But I couldn’t hang around as one of our ‘finds’ at SummerTyne 16 was Amythyst Kiah who was on the Jumpin’ Hot Club Stage. Is she Blues? Folk? Country? Gospel? Who knows and who cares, as her intensely rich voice combines absolutely everything that is good in Americana Music.
As her final notes were filtering into the leaden sky I rushed straight back into the Sage to finally see Massy Ferguson…..yowza, yowza and YOWZA! Seattle’s finest sons were every inch as good (and loud) as I’d hoped and had the crowd standing shoulder to shoulder in the main area and three deep on the staircase. As SummerTyne is rapidly becoming famous for; Danni Nicholls was invited on stage to join the band for a rockingly ramshackle performance that had people queuing at the merch desk to buy both albums that RMHQ raved about.
A quick cup of coffee and three all too brief ‘hi, good to see you….we must get together’ conversations meant I missed the first 15 minutes of Earl Thomas on the JHC Stage; but the 45 minutes I did see were amazing; scorching and Soulful R&B …..with a charismatic singer, what’s not to like?
More strong coffee and a big dirty burger later and I was witnessing the kids from the Stax Music Academy for the second time; as they opened the show for Mr William Bell. Honestly…..they were/are truly amazing, and each of the six singers gets the opportunity to take lead, which showcases some amazing ‘strength in depth’……the future is bright; the future is STAX!
As they finished I met Mrs Magpie in the bar as she was here to see Sam Outlaw in Hall 2; as part of a double header with Jim Lauderdale (both have great new albums out).
Jim was a ‘vision’ in a brightly coloured shirt and matching Crimpolene trousers; and his many years on stage showed as he held the audience in the palm of his hand from start to finish with a series of songs from his back catalogue, each introduced by a story that made you smile.
As Mrs Magpie enjoyed a convivial tincture with some friends I rushed back to Hall 1 to see and photograph the very dapper William Bell. What a voice this fella still has and like Jim Lauderdale; what a showman!
With the clock ticking I had to run across the concourse and arrived in the Sold-Out Hall 2 just as Sam was being cheered onto the stage. It’s amazing how much he has changed since I saw him play to about 60 people at a JHC gig just over a year ago; and tonight he looked uber-confident and immaculately dressed alongside his regular band. With time not being on his side he crammed a ninety minute set into 6o; and didn’t leave the crowd with time to breathe between song after great song; leaving all 700 fans completely breathless at the end. A relatively new kid on the block for many (but not RMHQ readers) I forecast Sam Outlaw won’t play in front of 60 fans ever again in the North East.
The gig was cut short because an exciting Songwriter’s Circle featuring Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Prophet, Ashley Campbell and Amythyst Kiah was following and it was FREE ENTRY. I only got to see two songs before I had to leave; but a friend who was there said it was a stunning hour and something they would love to see again.

Summertyne Sunday


My one and only full day at SummerTyne 2017 started at noon, with the leader of the Royal Northern Synthonia Sir Bradley Cheswick leading the All-Star Hot Club of Geordie Town through a series of Country and Western Swing Classics. It took me a couple of minutes to realise that the handsome young singer fronting the band was none other than Brian Hume and the harmonies provided by his much younger wife Irene; from Folk legends Prelude! Hey…..that’s SummerTyne for you; a bag full of surprises around every corner.
I then scurried inside to see the Kentucky Cowtippers from the Chowdene Delta on the AMA UK Stage, and again these young ‘uns have really developed their Bluegrass/Country-Folk sound by spending the last couple of years constantly touring and serving their apprenticeship. Today their all too brief set revolved around a recent EP of self-written songs with only a couple of covers slipped in under the radar.
One of the less well known highlights of SummerTyne is always the films that are unearthed and shone in the Lounge to a handful of people. Before going outside I popped in and saw a wonderful 14 minute film called Buna and Bertha about two old ladies (in 1985) talking about keeping Appalachian Folk music alive. I just wish more people could see these delightful slices of musical history.
Alongside Massy Ferguson on Saturday the other act that I was desperate not to miss was Rob Vincent whose album will feature in many Top 10’s at the end of the year. The wait was most definitely worth it……this lad has it all; great songs and a stage presence that kept the audience entranced for over an hour.
Following a couple of quick howdy do’s with some old friends; and finally meeting David from the Three Chords and the Truth website; it was into Hall 2 for another Sold-Out show. This time the passionate solo Blues Rock from Lisa Mills…..(a big guitar and an even bigger voice) and the sultry late night soulful Blues from Jo Harman.
Outside on the JHC Stage Errol Linton was making a welcome return with his own take on Urban R&B this time adding some modern hippitty hoppitty (Grime?) splashes for the teenagers.
As I left Hall 2 I caught Chloe Chadwick’s final song and somehow ended up talking so long to some friends I totally missed the Country Twang of Jonathan Terrell on the JHC Stage playing to an ever diminishing crowd as the rain set in with a vengeance…..sorry mate; these things happen at festivals.
With the rain now belting down, the concourse was packed for Scouse Alt. Country band Rosenblume who took full advantage to showcase their exciting and raw songs.
It really impressed me to see how many hardy souls were prepared to sit in a Monsoon more fitting to February to watch RMHQ favourites Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay in the guise of High Plains Jamboree on the JHC Stage. Not for me I’m afraid; I ran around for ten minutes taking photos then decamped back inside the main building. In any other year this would have been the perfect music to watch on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Back to my opening question….’What is Americana Music?’ Well; one of the highlights of the weekend came next; and the pouring rain yet again a much bigger audience than expected got to witness the beautiful Gospel songs from the Voices of Virtue Choir and hearing them sing such a delightful mix of songs.
As they finished I looked out of the Sage’s huge windows and saw the rain coming down in sheets from four separate angles, so the jacket was zipped up to my throat and the trucker cap pulled on tight as I made a dash outside to see The Savoy Family Cajun Band close the weekend on the JHC Stage. I couldn’t believe my eyes as less than 100 people were there and over 50 were dancing! Dancing in multi-coloured ponchos and wellies! You gotta love Geordies.
Back inside steam was coming off my jacket while I watched local lass Hayley McKay in her sparkly dress on the AMA UK stage. Not to everyone’s taste; I loved her Dollyesque Country-Pop and look forward to the album that is meant to be coming out in the Autumn.
It was a similar sound with Callaghan who opened the evenings entertainment in Hall 1. She looks amazing and has a great voice with some ‘good songs’ and it won’t take much for her to have a hit and surf the Shires coat tails into British Country Stardom.
As she was still tinkling the ivories on the Sage’s Steinway I excitedly made my way to see a band I discovered last year with their debut EP and subsequently fell in love with the follow up LP…..Curse of Lono from London Town!
On the lead up I thought their blend of Southern Gothic music was an odd choice for a support to Chuck Prophet; but hey! It worked and worked incredibly well as a cautious audience fell under the spell as their magical songs won the hall over with ease.
By now I should have been flagging; but the adrenaline was pumping as I went back across the building to see the start of Beth Neilsen Chapman’s concert in Hall I. While I only watched for about 20 minutes, I saw enough to confirm my love of live music. The ever smiling Beth had a couple of ‘technical problems’ which she laughed and joked through before realising she hadn’t plugged the bloody thing in! Still laughing at her own expense she then went into the most beautiful love song.
But, there was Chuck Prophet to see! Even the look on his face as he walked on stage told me he was ‘ready to Rock’ and Rock us he did……two hours of songs played fast and loud with the occasional ballad and political tirade made for a glorious end to another SummerTyne Festival.
What more can I say? SummerTyne is ‘my festival’; it’s on my doorstep and means I can sleep in my own bed and not a tent; but it’s all about the music kids; and the balance of music here plus and the sound quality inside the Sage is as good if not better than anywhere else in the world.
Now……what was that rumour I heard in the car park about a potential headliner next year?

Alan and his Magpie Spies.

summertyne rain

Photo-Set Saturday

Photo-Set Sunday



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Jefferson Ross

Time Served Troubadour Shows How It’s Done.

The name Jefferson Ross will mean as much or as little to you as it did to me when I first received this album; then I dug a little deeper and found not only has he released 5 studio album under his own steam as a singer-songwriter and has written songs for and appeared on stage with a bona fide who’s who of Nashville’s A-List Country acts over the years.
Here we find him showcasing his songs and telling some sweet stories in-between on an inspired Live Album.
For once on a Live Album we actually hear the act being introduced; and after thanking the audience Mr. Ross treats us to a tightly wound acoustic Country song called Two Horses, that features some mighty neat guitar picking that reinforces Ross’s warmly expressive voice.
A ‘laid back’ approach is the best way to describe Jefferson Ross’s ‘style’; akin to Gordon Lightfoot and Don Williams at times; with House of the Lord and Yesterday’s Paper being prime examples.
I’m not normally a lover of Live Albums; but producer Thom Jutz’ (who can be heard playing guitar too) has genuinely captured the warmth and intimacy of the concert, making it sound like you are there in the room sharing in the magic.
As he was a staff-writer in Nashville for many years I shouldn’t be surprised by the quality of the songs here; but I am. Trying Not To Lose My Mind is a ‘talking Blues’ that evolves into a whip sharp Folk song, that I normally associate with Tom Russell or RMHQ favourite David Olney; especially as it includes more minutiae than an encyclopedia.
While I love just about every single charming song here; especially Sol is Made of Broken Things, 77 Lime Green Cadillac Hearse and the glorious harmonies on The Thunder which closes the concert; but tucked away in the middle are two back to back songs that made me twist my head to the speakers in disbelief; first is Family Drama a fun song that will resonate with most people of our age then, it is followed by the deeply personal Isle of Hope and it’s even more personal introduction. I won’t spoil the surprise for you…but…phew…..spellbinding springs to mind.
So, I’ve made another amazing musical discovery in Jefferson Ross and I hope that you will too.

Released June 23rd 2017

Black *Scarr – DELUDED

black scarr

Black *Scarr
18 Til I Die Records

It’s Folk Music Jim; But Not As You Know It! Urban Folkicana?

One of our ‘finds’ this year was London band The Persecuted and for once I’ve actually kept up an occasional correspondence with Johnny Black from said Beat Combo. As many musicians out there will appreciate Johnny has to keep a lot of plates spinning to make a living from his chosen profession; one of which is this duo with singer-songwriter Emma Scarr.
So far so good; and when he told me they had recorded an album I foolishly said “send me a copy” without thinking……and there was no going back when he uttered the dreaded F-Word……”It’s more Folk than our usual stuff.”
Well three weeks later I can tell you it’s now been on and off both the office and car stereo with satisfying regularity.
A soul stirring harmonica opens the album and first track Going Home which stars Emma on a heartfelt story of a young woman who has moved to the country for a better life but hankers for the bright lights and crazy traffic of the big city. It’s a simple yet clever story and song that will resonate with many people who return home after life at University or the like.
That harmonica returns with a vengeance on Dirty Coins; a song on many another album that would be ‘my favourite’. A wonderful tale of two women (sisters) who are polar opposites, with one tied down to a life of domesticity and the other a free spirit that flits around the world, but each is jealous of the others life and lifestyle. (PS it took a while but I know what that harmonica melody is a homage to!)
It breaks my heart to admit to liking a Folk album; but there is something very refreshing about a simple observation song like Night Tube Home, about a musician having to take said mode of transport at the end of the night (I remember Jason Ringenberg once cutting short an interview for that very reason!).
Thankfully there’s the occasional flash of pedal-steel to add extra Country spice to a couple of tracks with Emma’s pleading Mrs. Average being a stonker of a South London Honky-Tonker; and on Another Beer her deliberately ‘flat annunciation’ couldn’t be any more effective on a Country-Folk response to the Rolling Stones Mother’s Little Helper.
Johnny does take the lead a couple of times with King of Rock and Roll being a real Folk-Rocking foot-stomper and on My Therapist Said he touches nerves that I don’t want to discuss; but it’s a song many of could have written……but didn’t.
On an album chock full of Kitchen Sink dramas none are any sadder or more eloquent than Carry Me Home about a woman who ‘pops out for some shopping’ and several hours later after meeting several acquaintances asks and needs to be ‘carried home.’ Sad? Yes; but beautifully described and sung by Johnny Black.
My favourite song here though is Can of Worms, a tale of sexual infidelity and its heartbreaking consequences. The story and intimate details are pin sharp and coupled with Darren Buddell’s pedal-steel and Emma’s exquisite fiddle playing make this the type of song we would normally associate with Loretta or Patsy; not a couple of English Folk Rockers.
While Mr Black co-wrote all of the songs with Ms Scarr, she takes most of the heavy lifting in the lead vocal department, with Johnny only sneaking in a couple of times; and the world here is a better place for it as Emma has a gorgeously ‘lived in’ and occasionally ‘world weary’ quality on the songs that she inhabits like an Oscar winning actress.

Released 16th June 2017



Sam 3

Sam Baker

A Daring Approach From a Brilliant Songwriter Creates a Bold and Beautiful Record.

It’s a challenge for any singer or band with even a modicum of success to have to choose between recording the same songs but with different titles; or do they evolve and develop; making new music that may alienate their fan base.
Thankfully Sam Baker has taken the latter route over 5 albums in 13 years and a combination of masterful storytelling and a very distinctive voice have managed to bring in new fans with every record without ever losing the original fans.
Without reading the Press Release in advance the delightful semi-classical guitar which opens track #1 Summer Wind took me by surprise and then when Sam more narrates than sings the song I sat back with a puzzled expression on my face. The song is even slower than normal and includes a de-tuned (?) guitar and some sweet trumpet playing from Don Mitchell which sent a shiver down my spine. As soon as it finished I pressed ‘repeat’ and the penny immediately dropped; this wasn’t going to be a ‘normal’ album……in some ways it’s a conceptual piece; but by golly it’s staggeringly good!
Only a few songs here; Margaret and Say The Right Words for example, are ‘typical’ Sam Baker songs in as much as they are very literate, deeply personal stories; but even Say The Right Words has Mitchell performing like an Angel on the trumpet again towards the end.
Without spoiling anything for you several tracks are referred to as ‘interludes’ which left me baffled at first’ then halfway through I realised that these short orchestral pieces work perfectly; cleansing the mind ready for the next song.
A brave thing to do; but when Song of Sunrise Birds (interlude) bleeds into The Feast of St. Valentine you know you’re not listening to an ordinary record…….LAND OF DOUBT isn’t ‘ordinary’ at all.
With that in mind, Peace Out can only be described as poetry set to music, with Sam talking through the first voice and even his singing voice hardly picks up the pace; leaving me with a fluttering the stomach and a big smile as it ended.
As a Sam Baker fan of quite a few years I absolutely love this album and salute the man’s courage for trying something different; but the title of ‘favourite song’ must go to an actual ‘traditional’ folk song; but a song that is as good as anything this great songwriter has ever penned. Some Kind of Blue whizzes us back 40 odd years to the Vietnam War as Sam tells the story of “a quiet young man/too shy to get a date.” But young Charlie enlists and before he knows what is happening he is on a jet then “crawling in a tunnel/where the fallen Angels dwell.” The irony of the chorus “Charlie fighting Charlie” isn’t lost on the character nor will it audiences. Eventually Charlie returns home and marries; but……..”crawling through a tunnel/with a loaded .45/was the only time he felt alive.”
Sadly there are thousands of Charlie’s across the Western world feeling the same way 40 years later.
The title track; which closes the record is a singular radical change of mood, with Baker again taking on the role of narrator on a very atmospheric and even claustrophobic song which brings the whole album to a powerful conclusion and owes a debt to to the Beat Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. If I still had my radio show I would play it every single week for a month.
LAND OF DOUBT is quite a departure from what we expect from an Americana/Folk singer; but don’t worry (spoiler alert!) this album is truly exceptional and takes him into the musical territory I associate with Randy Newman, Tom Waits and even the likes of Nick Cave; and Sam Baker is there on Merit.

Released June 16th 2017

The People – STORR


The People
Astral Records

The Emotive Sounds of New Scotia.

I recently sent out a Tweet asking for local bands to get in touch with music to review; and the only response came from a Glaswegian band with a singer who hailed from a town 4 miles from my doorstep.
Out of a sense of decency I said to send their latest disc; their third since 2002 and first in 10 long years which arrived the following morning.
God definitely works in mysterious ways.
I was immediately intrigued and impressed with the opening track Hymn, a Gospel flavoured acapella song lasting less than a minute; then a full on powerhouse Celtic Folk-Rocker followed; raising my eyebrows to a cartoonish level.
WOW! The epic Kaon Blues (pt1) lasts over 7 minutes and the swirling guitars, luscious harmonies, militaristic drumming and brass section combine to create a sound akin to the best of Simple Minds, Runrig and Big Country filtered through Deacon Blue. It’s a universal sound that couldn’t sound any more Scottish if it came in a shortbread tin.
While nothing else, thankfully reaches those heady heights……my senses couldn’t take it; the pitch is set perfectly for delightful folky compositions like The River and the atmospheric Ballad of the Lighthouse Keeper to seep into your consciousness like the aroma of heather after a rainstorm.
For younger listeners, on a couple of tracks The People will sound like they take their lead from bands like the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons; but ‘that Power-Folk sound’ on Into The Wilds and Henry ‘O has been around since the sixties Folk Boom and these guys do it with aplomb, passion and show you young ‘uns how it should be done.
While I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the whole album; which is just as good played on a car journey as it is in the conservatory while reading the Sunday papers one song really stands out.
The Devil Inside is one of those songs that will go on to define a band. The Devil Inside encapsulates everything that is good, not just about this album but music itself. The singer’s voice aches as a guitar weeps and wails while the bass, fiddle and drums fill every gap imaginable; and when the harmonies fill the air you feel like the world is a better place to live in.
The playing, writing and story telling throughout is quite exceptional; especially from a band I’ve never heard of and who appear to be part-time but utterly professional and play for ‘fun’…….remember that, eh?

Released April 27th 2017


lazarus x


Fascinating and World Weary Stories and Songs.

I’m not sure if it was the eye catching artwork or discovering that Lazarus is his real name that attracted me to this CD; but history will prove that the fates got it right.
After trawling the back-roads and dives that litter America Lazarus Nichols has finally got around to actually recording and releasing his debut album of mostly self-penned songs; proving that there’s hope for every musician out there.
The simple opening track Rise; an almost Quasi-Religious song that turns the bible story about Lazarus into a harsh tale of a working man of the same name is really impressive; introducing us as it does to Nicholls’ way with words and his extraordinary voice, which sits somewhere between Tom’s Russell and Waits.
The songs here criss-cross Modern American Folk, Alt. Country and Tex-Mex with such ease you don’t know where one starts and one ends.
Promise Not To Tell is one of those gorgeously evocative stories that littered Tom Russell’s early albums and the occasional flourishes of Mexicana in the background add an extra ‘something’ that makes this song stand out from the crowd.
Nichols has really grasped the opportunities offered to him in the recording studio; adding extra layers of violin to the chunky guitar on the beautifully mournful Shit and Shame; and then on Gonna Be Okay it sounds like a whole New Orleans Jazz Band are sitting in on the session as Lazarus tips his hat towards the good Dr. John via Leon Russell.
But it’s the simpler folkie songs where Lazarus really shines; with Loathsome Shadow and Making Good Time sounding as good as anything I’ve heard in recent years from some big, big names in the Americana world.
The only cover song here is a fascinating choice; Bob Marley’s Small Axe (a favourite of Noel Gallagher from Oasis) which Lazarus turns into a luscious slice of cool West Coast Country.
Then there is the title track Rock n Roll Heart; my favourite song on the album, which is exactly ‘what it says on the tin’ but done in an Alt. Country stylee…..and just begs to be heard on the radio or perhaps one of those TV Detective shows with a cool soundtrack.
Who knows why some people with average talent find fame in this world; and why others like Lazarus Nichols live their lives in the shadows barely eking out a living; let’s right that wrong and give Lazarus his time in the spotlight that he so surely deserves.

Released May 26th 2017




Jon & Roy
Blue Heron Music

An Inspired and Articulate Slice of Arcadian Canada.

This is Jon Middleton and Roy Vizer’s seventh album and I’d not heard heard of them prior to receiving this disc; but thanks to the glories of the World Wide Web they found me and I can share it with you.
The atmospheric opening track Runner sets the tone nicely for a set of songs that capture the imagination and bare repeated listening.
Middleton’s distinctive voice sounds ‘lived in’ and at times ‘deeply hurt’ on songs like How The Story Goes and Nothing But Everything which features some mysteriously jazz-lite guitar and bass, which makes it perfect for listening late at night when you are feeling very sorry for yourself.
In a way it seems only Canadian artists can do it, Jon and Roy capture the sense of loss at the end of a love affair better than their counterparts anywhere else. Perhaps it’s the cold winds from the North or there’s something in the water; but I can’t imagine a song as brittle as Clever One or Every Night being written or recorded in America or the UK. Jon and Roy (plus co-producer) Stephen Franke capture that magical sense of wonderment and bewilderment quite perfectly at times.
At one stage when I was playing this on Sunday Mrs. Magpie looked up and said “There aren’t many laughs here, are there?”
That is true; and there aren’t meant to be….these songs tell fragile and complex stories in a well constructed and very articulate manner; but the whole album is still very accessible and; dare I say it….easy on the ear.
I’m contrary by nature so very rarely choose title tracks as ‘my favourite’ but The Road Ahead Is Golden which features some delightfully picked guitars and Middleton’s voice itself sounds actually golden; if a little tarnished; all making for a genuine stand out track.
Not for the first time this year I’ve made another ‘great discovery’ in Jon and Roy who are at heart Folkies but easily crossover into ‘Americana’ territory with what I can best describe as Cowboy Junkies Lo-Fi sensibilities.

Released May 19th 2017


mad violet 6

Madison Violet
Big Lake Music

The Girls Are Back In Town And Re-Invent Folk!

Madison Violet aka Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac are an old fashioned Folk duo with a identifiable modern sound all of their own.
Although they have been together (in the musical sense) for 18 years I think it was about 8 years ago when I first saw them at a Jumping Hot Club gig upstairs in the packed Central Bar, Gateshead.
A love affair began that night.
This album begins with a very simple and self-depreciating We Are Famous; but listen carefully and their trademark harmonies will fill your head like a finely woven silken fog.
Both Brenley and Lisa are inordinately talented multi-instrumentalists and for THE KNIGHT SESSIONS they decided to go back beyond basics; trawling the junk shops of Toronto for any discarded sad and lonely ‘toys’ and instruments in need of care and attention but could make an organic sound unlike anything they had made before.
Some older songs have been re-imagined using this format and while it’s not always apparent what is where; the result is exceptional and surpasses the experiment with grace.
These Ships, for instance appears here twice; first as an impassioned acoustic song and then closing the record with a very radio friendly almost Electronica re-mix.
Another song that has been re-worked is Ohio, from YEAR OF THE HORSE and ………the girls voices melt together in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever heard from non-siblings; and the intricate guitar and fiddle playing is stunningly good too.
I wish I knew why; but the ‘Americana/Roots’ music coming out of Canada in the last ten years has generally been of a very high calibre and Madison Violet have been at the forefront; and with beautiful almost lo-fi songs like Don’t Let Your Heart Be Troubled, Operator and How We See Love that trend continues with relish.
Not for the first time Mrs. Magpie and I disagree as to what is the ‘best’ song here; I adore the timeless and heart-shredding Trouble and she insists Hush; something akin to a ‘band effort’ with a slight Reggae tinge to it making it unlike most other Madison Violet efforts makes it the winner.
As usual she is right; of course.
Unlike most of their contemporaries Brenley and Lisa have thrown caution to the wind on this album; obviously keeping their integral ‘sound’ but modernising it and making it accessible for a younger generation while not alienating old fogies like me (and you?) which is quite some feat; and all done without the aid of a safety net.

RELEASED UK May 5th 2017

Released Canada/USA 2nd June 2017